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I was recently let go from my job and given a two week severance package. The money was deposited into my account almost immediately. I was given an agreement to sign, but I prefer not to sign it because I don't think I was fired for a good reason, and I don't want my signature on something that implies I agree with the release. While I don't plan to pursue legal action or go out of my way to say negative things about the company or its employees, I don't like the idea of signing a document that agrees to those stipulations. When I talk to former colleagues who I'm still friends with, I plan to give them an honest assessment of what I think happened, and I don't want any potential trouble for that.

So, is it wrong for me to not sign this document? Aside from my former employer taking legal action, which seems unlikely, is there another consequence I'm not considering?

  • Where are you geographically? Did you have some kind of written contract with your former employer? And a reminder, HR is not there to help you or your career. HR is there to protect the company and to provide careers for HR employees. In my experience, they do the latter much more effectively than the former. – Nolo Problemo Nov 5 '15 at 17:23
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So, is it wrong for me to not sign this document? Aside from my former employer taking legal action, which seems unlikely, is there another consequence I'm not considering?

"Wrong" is something for you to decide, and depends entirely on your individual situation and the specifics of what is in the document. (As an aside, your signature does not usually imply your agreement. Read the document to see if that is the case here or not).

You aren't required to sign the agreement, and the company (at least in the US) cannot legally compel you to sign it. But a likely consequence is that you aren't entitled to the severance package, unless your local laws say otherwise. see: http://www.employmentlawfirms.com/resources/employment/compensation-benefits/do-i-have-to-accept-severance-package

Since the money has already been deposited in your account, the company may let you keep it anyway, or they may not. In the latter case, they will require that you return the money. In my opinion, this is the most likely scenario.

Some separation agreements contain protection for you. In exchange for agreeing not to say bad things about the company, some agreements require the company not to say bad things about you. Obviously, not signing the document means you won't get this protection.

A severance/separation agreement is a contract. A contract must offer something of value to both parties (often called "consideration"). Read the document carefully, to see what else of value to you it might contain, in addition to the severance money.

  • I'm not certain that I agree. It seems that the payment of the severance payment means that the company agreed to the terms of the (verbal) severance agreement as it existed at that moment. The written proposal seems to be an attempt to renegotiate those terms. While such renegotiation is possible, it too must include consideration for both parties, and the company cannot void the (verbal) agreement in retaliation for failing to renegotiate. – MSalters Nov 6 '15 at 16:51
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Unless your severance agreement is very unusual, signing it does not imply that you agree with the reasons for termination. The contract says what it says, but most simply say that the severance payments make up a fair compensation for your termination and you agree not to pursue any other legal remedies. If you don't intend to pursue this legally, then there is no point in decline to sign something that says you won't.

However unless you have been working only a very short time, or are in the United States, two weeks is an extremely short amount of severance. It is possible that they may be trying to get you to accept a two week package when you are in fact entitled to more. It's possible that two weeks is the legal minimum. In some jurisdictions (Canada, for example) you are usually legally entitled to more than the legal minimum.

I strongly advise you to consult a lawyer before signing anything. The company is almost certainly legally obliged to give you enough time to do that.

  • Thanks for the comments. What you said about taking legal action makes sense; since I don't plan to take any, I guess it doesn't hurt to sign it. I suppose it's my pride that makes me not want to sign this, but that's not a great reason. To your second point, I worked for the company for 1.5 years and I agree that two weeks is a short period of time for severance, although I have no basis for comparison. I live in California, and from what I can tell, there is no law here regarding a severance minimum. I don't really want to pay for a lawyer now, but I may just ask for a longer length of pay. – 607 Nov 5 '15 at 4:17
  • How is two weeks a "legal minimum" if you're legally entitled to more? – MSalters Nov 6 '15 at 16:54
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You have your money, you have left already, so it's up to you. If you want to be petty and vindictive then by all means do so, the only thing you need to worry about is legal action which you deem unlikely. And possibly some bad mouthing about you from your former colleagues who's opinion may or may not mean much to you.

If they have upset you then you can safely just ignore anything they send you.

This is assuming of course that you don't have anything in your contract that would give you grief.

  • I appreciate the thoughts from both of you. I didn't think of the possibility of asking for a statement to be added requiring the company to not say bad things about me, in exchange for the reverse. I may ask for that to be added, as well as obtaining an agreed upon written statement, to be used as a reference when I apply for new jobs (my boss verbally said he'd give me a positive referral). Does that seem like something reasonable to ask? – 607 Nov 4 '15 at 23:35
  • I'd just walk away and ignore them to be honest, nothing they sign will stop your coworkers from talking about you if they have some sort of grudge, because unless each of them is included in the agreement, it doesn't apply to them, it applies to the company and it's not enforceable in real life. – Kilisi Nov 4 '15 at 23:53

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