Severance pay is money or other benefits your employer agrees to provide you should you be released from employment with the company. And while it can help cover living expenses as you search for another job, it also serves as a benefit for your employer.
When you sign a severance agreement, you agree to specific clauses contained within. Typically, these terms state that you will accept a certain amount of money in exchange for not taking any legal action against your previous employer. Thus, if you feel that your termination was unlawful, but your severance agreement states that you cannot bring any unemployment discrimination claims, you likely cannot sue your employer.
Lawsuits Can Be Brought in Limited Situations
However, that's not to say that you are completely released of your rights to take legal action. In some limited circumstances, you may be able to bring a claim against your employer. For instance, if your employer coerced you into signing the severance agreement by levying threats against you, the contract may be deemed invalid, and your rights to bring an employment discrimination lawsuit may be restored. Still, letting your future rest on the hope that your agreement or the situation surrounding your signing of it contains some loophole that will allow you to sue your employer is a gamble.
A more effective way of ensuring that your severance agreement protects your rights and best interests is by speaking with an employment law attorney.
Recognizing What Leverage You Have in Negotiating Severance Pay
Many employees might not realize it, but, in many cases, severance can be negotiated. Unfortunately, this lack of knowledge can lead to workers accepting the first offer that comes their way.
If you are offered a severance package, before signing, discuss your situation with a lawyer as soon as possible. This is true regardless of whether you believe you were subject to wrongful termination. Because severance can be negotiated, you can seek to obtain more favorable terms. Remember: your employer offering severance isn't just about providing you with the financial assistance you need during your time of unemployment. It's also about your employer protecting itself from unwanted, negative attention, such as an employment discrimination lawsuit being pursued against them.
Having an employment law attorney on your side can help as you try to determine whether what your employer is offering is a fair exchange for what you're giving up. They can help identify leverage points, such as potential legal claims you can bring against your employer, and negotiate for an increase in severance pay.
Thus, although it may be unlikely you can sue your employer after receiving a severance package, there are things you can do before signing that can make the exchange more beneficial for you. It's essential that you take your time to understand the clauses in your agreement and get legal help to parse through the details.
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