Archive for September 2014

WHY BUSINESS OWNERS SHOULD OBTAIN A RELEASE FROM TERMINATED EMPLOYEES

September 2, 2014

If you are a business owner or manager and are terminating an employee and anticipate the possibility of claims being made by such employee, you should consider obtaining from them a release of claims.

Simply stated, a release of claims is an agreement between an employer and employee whose employment has been terminated, releasing the employer from employment related claims.  Generally, a release of claims is offered by the employer in exchange for the acceptance by the employee of a severance package.  A release is a useful tool when the employer wishes to terminate the employee but feels that there is some risk that the employee will sue.  The purpose of the release is to avoid potential litigation and resolve possible disputes, such as a claim for discrimination, before the employee files a complaint.  A more formal agreement may be necessary if the former employee has already filed a claim.

If you decide that you would like to obtain a release from an employee who is going to be terminated, there are a few factors to keep in mind.  For employees age 40 and over, the release should include an age discrimination clause, which specifically refers to release of any claims under  the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, protecting against age discrimination.  The release should be in writing, and written in a manner that the employee would understand.  The employer must inform the employee that he/she has 21 days to consider the release and to accept the severance package.  (The 21 days starts to run from the date of the employer’s final offer to the employee.)  The employee can sign the release prior to the expiration of the 21-day time period.  After signing the release, the employee has 7 additional days to withdraw or revoke the release.  Such time periods and rights must be specifically stated in the release agreement; otherwise, the release is unenforceable.  Also, the agreement should specifically advise the employee to consult with an attorney before signing the release.

The release of claims is typically offered at the employment termination meeting along with the severance package. The severance package is what you would give in exchange for the employee giving up any potential claims, since, to be enforceable, the employee must receive some consideration (i.e., severance package), above and beyond the value of what he or she was already entitled to.  It is common practice for the employer to give at lease two weeks severance pay and to pay an employee for unused vacation or sick days.

Be prepared for the employee to push for a better severance package.  This is where your negotiation skills will come into play.  In determining how much to offer, you should keep in mind that if a claim is brought by the terminated employee, regardless of the validity (or more often, the lack thereof) of the claims, defense costs alone will likely run tens of thousands of dollars, plus there is always the uncertainty of the outcome.

Any time you terminate an employee, you should consult with an attorney to help evaluate the potential for a lawsuit.  If we can be of assistance to you regarding a termination and/or the drafting of a release of claims, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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