By Jason Solotaroff
Good people lose their jobs all the time. It can be anything from a restructuring, a layoff, a personality conflict with the boss or, unfortunately sometimes, unlawful discrimination. How do you make sure you protect your rights and exit with the best financial package? As an experienced New York employment attorney, this is the advice I give to our clients…and to my friends and family members.
Five Rules To Follow When Your Employment is Terminated
1. Remain Calm.
Not only is this good for your self-respect, it will help set the strong and confident tone that you’ll need later if there is a negotiation.
2. Ask Questions.
I’ve written a separate blog post here on the seven questions you should ask when you are laid off. The key here is to learn the reasons for your termination. The company’s answers could help you later if you decide to negotiate your severance or file a claim against the company. Calmly write down the answers and don’t make any arguments or offers. This is an information collection moment. Anything you say here might be used against you. If you are directly asked a question, say that you need to think about it.
3. Don’t advocate for yourself right away.
Even seasoned professionals who are excellent negotiators can get emotional when they first find out about their terminations. Better to reflect first and calmly assemble your thoughts and arguments.
4. Don’t sign anything.
Companies are eager for terminated employees to sign their severance agreement as soon as possible. The firing manager may try to pressure you to sign your severance deal on the spot. Once you sign the dotted line, it will be very hard to ask for more severance money. And you won’t be able to strike future employment restrictions that might be tucked into the fine print. Sleep on it and make sure you think your severance deal is fair first.
5. Consult with a qualified employment attorney.
Many attorneys, including me, are happy to chat with you on the phone for a few minutes at no cost and, perhaps, will even offer an in-person consultation at no cost. Consulting with an attorney prior to agreeing to a severance package will allow you to see if you have a legal basis to seek increased severance or file a claim. Legal claims can range from racial, age and gender discrimination to a company’s failure to abide by the employee handbook. Whistleblowers, employees who have disclosed unethical or illegal corporate behavior, are protected by federal statute. A company’s payment practices, such as how it pays bonuses or overtime, can also be a legal basis to ask for more severance.
An attorney can also help review your severance agreement and identify any language that could hurt your future employment prospects, such as a non-compete provision.
Often an attorney will recommend that you make your own case for a higher severance amount, especially if you don’t have strong legal claims, but you first have to know what your best approach is. Making the wrong argument on your own or in some instances even making the right one (if you end up retaining an attorney to deal with your employer) can make it more difficult later.
I hope this is helpful. Please call or email if you need specific advice.