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I had a job where the probation period was 6 months. I was terminated just after 4 months. There were never any issues brought to my attention and nothing that went terribly wrong. The only explanation I got was "not a good fit", which I actually sort of agree with.

The company wants me to sign a general release agreement. It basically says I wont bring legal action against them, and that the agreement itself is confidential. They gave me a deadline to return the signed form and are trying to make it sound like I have to sign it.

They also gave me another document stating that I was terminated without cause and will be receiving a severance pay. Since I was still in my probation I think they didn’t have to do this. I’m not clear if this "severance agreement" is contingent on me signing the general release.

Should I ask HR if it is? Should I ask HR if they can clarify if there were any specific incidences or complaints that affected their decision to terminate me?

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5 Answers 5

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I’m not clear if this "severance agreement" is contingent on me signing the general release

In comments you've added:

the severance document states "the following terms pertain to your separation of employment: ...you will receive $x in severance ...you will sign and return the attached release form by the due date"

That seems relatively clear that signing the release is part of the separations terms they've proposed. You can of course reject them, but that means rejecting the entire proposal. Can also try to negotiate not signing the release and still getting severance but as you've pointed out - they don't have to do it.

Should I ask HR if it is?

You can but I don't recommend it. Their duty is to the company interests, not yours. As a result they may give you good advice, but they may also give you horribly bad advice, and I am not sure how can you decide whether to trust it or not.

If you want independent help in understanding your situation, which I highly recommend, then get a consultation with a local lawyer. No idea how big of severance are we talking here, but short consultation on relatively simple matter should be a small part of it. It may also help you understand WHY they want you to sign a release, as this isn't exactly standard in most of the companies I worked with.

Should I ask HR if they can clarify if there were any specific incidences or complaints that affected their decision to terminate me?

Absolutely.

This is generally what exit interviews are for, where both sides can be substantially more open than they would otherwise be, as everything should be sorted by now - from contracts, handing back equipment, pay and reference letters.

Will they give you an actual helpful reason? Who knows. But if you won't ask, you won't have a chance to know. But also be prepared to actively and openly listen, you may not like what you hear but there may well be truth to it, as unpleasant as it may be.

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    Re that last: If you are tempted to try to argue with the severance reasons, don't. That won't do you any good, and it delays your being able to sit back and ask yourself what you might be able to do to avoid this in the future. If anything.
    – keshlam
    Commented Sep 28, 2023 at 8:20
  • Actually both the severance document and release agreement have the term "you agree to keep the terms in this document in strict confidence". I'm assuming they only care about the dollar amount but the way it's written it sounds like I can't state that I was terminated without cause, or even that I was terminated at all. Should I ask HR to clarify this? Commented Sep 28, 2023 at 8:58
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    @PoliteShark HR are not there to help. you. The may give you bad or misleading advice about your legal rights, and the legal affect of any documents you may be asked to sign. Commented Sep 28, 2023 at 9:12
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    You can certainly ask HR questions about the terms of the agreement. It’s in the best interest of the company for you to understand the agreement
    – Donald
    Commented Sep 28, 2023 at 20:52
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    @Donald: Not necessarily in their best interests for you to understand the agreement before you sign it, though, just to understand your obligations afterwards. What you can at least rely on HR to do, though, is to explain what threats the company is making. If HR says, "if you don't sign the NDA we won't pay the severance" then, OK, it could be a bluff, but it is nevertheless the company's current position in the negotiation. Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 12:19
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There are always the two possibilities: Either the company gives you exactly what is legally required from them, and not a penny more, and you don't sign anything. Or the company gives you a severance package, and in return you sign some documents. The latter puts money in your pocket, and for the company it means there is a clean separation and they don't have to worry about being taken to court.

You decide what you want, and of course you use common sense. If you think the company should have paid you $100 in expenses, and you won't get that money because you signed a document with your $2000 severance package, then you take the $2000 obviously. So you lose the right to sue them. Do you see any reason to sue them? And any chance to get more money than through the severance package, after subtracting your own cost and the cost of the time? In that case, don't sign. But normally it's best for you to take the severance money and sign.

PS. I'm told that in the UK, signing that you can't sue them as part of the severance package doesn't mean you can't sue them - it just means you will lose the severance package. So if you found your office was full of asbestos and they should pay you £100,000 in damages then you can sue them. If the damage is less than your severance, then legally you can sue them, but it will cost you money.

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  • So it's... Here's money, just go away, and agree not to sue us for sending you home two months early because we did it without cause which means you can get all stinky if you want and maybe your brother's a lawyer... so we don't want any of that. Here's 4k. Sign here. ?
    – Mazura
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 2:41
  • @Mazura: yeah. You can see it as them offering you a 4k settlement for a lawsuit you haven't even brought. And which might not exist. It's worth 4k to them not to take that chance. Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 12:21
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    @gnasher729 I think your P.S. is a little misleading. There certainly are situations that are excluded from "no sue" clauses in severance agreements (usually called settlement agreements in the UK), but there are vastly more which such a clause would prevent you taking action - regardless of the value of the potential damages. Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 13:13
  • I don't think the paragraph about UK is universally, or really in majority cases true, nor I am not sure why would you include it at all. People are free to settle cases out of court, its even encouraged heavily.
    – Aida Paul
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 14:39
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I’m not clear if this "severance agreement" is contingent on me signing the general release. Should I ask HR if it is?

It's standard to have such a release form tied into the offer of severance. You won't get the severance unless you sign. But you can always ask.

Should I ask HR if they can clarify if there were any specific incidences or complaints that affected their decision to terminate me?

You can ask. Don't be surprised if all you get is a general "They felt you weren't a good fit" answer.

If you had a good relationship with your boss, you might have more luck asking them than asking HR.

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  • Agreed. Maybe the (minor) problem the company is creating here is that just by asking for the release, they make the questioner wonder what they could sue them for. Race discrimination? What's the company hiding? If they're hiding something then HR will continue to hide it, and will give the same answer as the severance letter. Far more likely of course is that this is all rubber-stamp stuff, and HR will still give the same answer as the severance letter. The niche where HR gives you more information on request is pretty tiny :) Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 12:28
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Take your time to read the documents carefully. As others have pointed out, see help from your local lawyer to catch any issues that may be problematic down the road. For example, signing the documents you agree to not work for the competition for a certain number of years. This can limit your options when looking for a new job.

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You agree with their reason for termination, and have not said that you really want to work there. Why is it then a problem signing the documents? They don't affect you adversely. If you are in a country with unemployment benefits, then being fired may even be better than resigning.

If you are worried about how the termination is going to look in your resume, then approach HR and tell them that you will take the severance package, but you want to officially resign with whatever reason you are comfortable with. Maybe just use the reason that you felt that you were not a good fit for the job.

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