You’ve just arrived at your desk at work and find an email on the computer directing you to immediately go to the Human Resources office. You had a slight suspicion that you were going to be let go, but it was just a fleeting feeling that you dismissed as paranoia. You then walk into the Human Resources office and are asked to sit down. You’re finally told, “we’re sorry, you’re being let go.” This is of course a difficult and unsettling reality to face. You can’t comprehend why you were a candidate for termination. All of your work is satisfactory; you come in on time, and are never late. You’ve devoted years of time and energy to this job and without any type of notice, you are being kicked out the door.
Certainly, this is not the identical way a termination will occur for everyone, but one event typically unites all employees being laid off– that moment they are asked to put pen to paper and sign an agreement in exchange for severance. At first glance, the often times lengthy document can be dizzying and confusing to comprehend (especially after the shock of discovering you are being let go). The first thing you need to remember is DON’T SIGN YOUR SEVERANCE AGREEMENT.
A severance agreement can include provisions that: 1) limit your ability to work in the same field for a prolonged period of time; 2) prevent you from soliciting customers you have grown relationships with over the years while with your former employer; 3) contain confidentiality clauses that will prevent you from sharing previously acquired information with a future employer; 4) waivers that will bar you from filing a lawsuit based on discrimination/retaliation/whistleblowing and many other provisions that may have a significant monetary value to you and your former employer.
Even in the event you do not believe you have anything of value to provide to your former employer and/or were not a target of discrimination/relation/whistleblowing, employers will often prefer to negotiate an equitable package, once an attorney is brought onboard. The smartest and most prudent thing you can do once you receive the severance documents is be gracious, say thank you, and leave your old job with your head held high. Once you’re ready, contact an employment attorney you feel comfortable with handling these matters, and put them to work. Make sure all your questions are asked before representation is commenced and take solace in knowing you will have a competent and accomplished employment attorney negotiating a favorable severance package. Good luck to you.