It’s ironic that most Washington state residents would never contemplate ending a marital relationship without consulting an experienced attorney, yet the vast majority will end an employment relationship without so much as a thought about legal representation.
True, if your current job is a relatively low-level position and you are moving on to a better situation, you likely can do so without legal assistance. But, if you are an executive officer, a specialized employee – such as a software engineer – or a well-compensated sales representative with lots of contacts, it may be shortsighted to accept your “severance package” and depart from your employment without some expert advice.
Common Severance Agreement Clauses That You May Want to Reconsider
There are several common provisions in severance agreements that you may want to avoid or re-negotiate – with the help of an experienced attorney – before you scribble down your “John Hancock” and walk out of the door for the final time. They include the following:
- Employer’s agreement to pay money that it already owes. All too often, the severance agreement details money that the employer already owes, such as unused vacation time, expenses that need to be reimbursed, and the like. It’s fine to list these, but the employee should give up nothing (e.g., an agreement not to compete in exchange for them). This money is already owed.
- Employee benefits. The severance agreement should outline the employee benefits that the departing employee can expect, such as continuation of health care coverage. Note that, generally, a departing employee has the right to continuation (upon payment of a premium) under the federal COBRA law.
- Release of claims against the employer. Most employers slip this provision into the agreement. If you’re represented by legal counsel, your attorney can likely negotiate some sort of reciprocal arrangement: “Ok, I won’t sue you, but you can’t sue me either.” Release clauses can be some of the most important and most dangerous. Are you giving up the right to accrued pension benefits? Are you required to arbitrate any dispute regarding the severance agreement itself? Rights that you think you have can evaporate, if you aren’t careful. An experienced employment attorney can prevent a bad situation later.
- Integration clauses. These are also tricky. At the end of many severance agreements is a clause that indicates that the document contains the entire agreement. If you had a separation conference with personnel, and the personnel representative made promises to you, those are totally negated if the integration clause is too broad.
Severance Agreements are Generally Drafted With the Employer’s Interests in Mind
It is in the employer’s interest to draft the severance agreement in its favor – not yours. Many a departing employee has found the departure process filled with hidden issues. What may seem clear on the surface may be quite murky from a legal standpoint. The cost of strong legal representation can be small when you consider how much it may cost you, as you try to move forward in the face of a severance agreement that restricts your rights and remedies.
Skilled, Experienced Legal Counsel is a Key to Moving Forward
Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S. has over 30 years of combined experience in providing both individuals and businesses with quality legal services throughout the Pacific Northwest. We routinely advise those who are leaving one job to take another. We negotiate agreements on both the “front end” and “back end” of the employment process. We pride ourselves on designing the simplest, most effective solution for your legal issue. Because of our firm’s extensive experience in business litigation, we are also better equipped than many law firms to help you avoid the expense of a court battle. For assistance with a severance agreement or any other type of business issue, contact us on the web, or call our office at 253-272-2997.