As a result of the state of the economy, in general, and in Fairfield County, in particular, we in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. have seen a spate of Separation Agreements brought to us by recently terminated employees. Our experienced employment-law attorneys review and critique these Agreements, and often advocate on behalf of our clients to enhance a separation package.
Here are five things you need to know about Separation Agreements:
- They are here and more may be on the way. Companies are scrutinizing their bottom lines to try to increase profits, decrease expenses, and improve share value or owner’s equity. If sales can’t be increased or cost-of-goods-sold decreased, one alternative is to cut personnel. Often senior (and more highly paid) employees are let go in favor of younger (i.e., “cheaper”) employees, thereby also raising the specter of an age discrimination claim (a topic deserving of its own post).
- They are complex. For an employee over the age of 40, a federal statute known as the “Older Workers Benefit Protection Act” requires that your Separation Agreement contain certain provisions, including a comprehensive release of all claims that you might have against your employer. The statute also gives you specific time periods to review the Agreement prior to signing, and even to rescind your approval after you have signed. It is not uncommon to have Separation Agreements exceed 10 pages in length. All of the language is important.
- They are a minefield. Separation Agreements frequently contain “restrictive covenants,” usually in the form of confidentiality, non-solicitation, and non-competition provisions. These can have a profound effect on your ability to relocate to another position and have to be carefully reviewed and analyzed to avoid potentially devastating long-term consequences after the Agreement has been signed and the revocation period has expired.
- They are not “carved in stone.” Although many companies ascribe to a “one size fits all” and a “take it or leave it” policy with regard to Separation Agreements, such is not necessarily the case. Often, Maya Murphy employment attorneys can find an “exposed nerve” and leverage that point to obtain for a client more severance pay, longer health benefits, or some other perquisite to ease the client’s transition into a new job with a new employer. Every case is factually (and perhaps legally) different and you should not assume that your severance package should be determined by those that have gone before you.
- You need an advocate. You need an experienced attorney to elevate discussion of your Separation Agreement above the HR level. HR directors have limited discretion and are tasked with keeping severance benefits to an absolute minimum. Maya Murphy’s goal is to generate a dialogue with more senior management to drive home the point that a particular client under certain circumstances is equitably entitled to greater benefits than initially offered.
If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having been presented with a Separation Agreement, you should contact an experienced employment law attorney in our Westport, Connecticut office by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.
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