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Day 5 — Don’t Take the Severance and Run

Day 5 -- Don't Take the Severance and Run

My severance agreement reminded me of an article about landlord-tenant leases I had written when I worked for my college newspaper. Like the leases I wrote about, the severance agreement was one-sided and onerous. It took away all of my rights to file a lawsuit and didn’t provide an inkling of protection from the company bad-mouthing me. Its language was enveloped in prose that insisted it was offering me a “generous” severance. Yeah, right. Friends said I was lucky to get severance, but I think it’s the right thing to do, even if a company isn’t legally obligated to provide you anything and thus making the post-exit experience much worse than divorce.

Through word of mouth, I retained a top-flight employment firm within days of my firing because, if the company was going to play hardball, so was I. I felt discriminated against because of my age and pending surgery, which I had delayed because a procedure to lessen the pain had seemed successful. Moreover, I was still sorting out doctors because the one I had chosen was not in my health insurer’s network of doctors, making me potentially liable for thousands of dollars.

My lawyers said they’d write a letter to my former employer about the numerous anti-discrimination laws they had violated, along with a settlement request to compensate me for the company’s misdeeds. I had no idea there were so many civil-rights laws to protect jilted employees. Some of the laws include the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, and the D.C. Human Rights Act, which has got to be the most fearful from an employer’s perspective because it doesn’t cap damages.  When the lawyers accepted my case on contingency, it validated my belief that I had been treated badly. In retaining legal counsel, I felt as if I had stood up for myself. I wasn’t seeking retaliation but fairness.

Severance is meant to alleviate some of the stress associated with finding a new job. From my perspective, I was left high and dry, given that the holidays were approaching, and no one was hiring full-time employees in the face of a recession. Surely, no one at the company could have thought that I would find a job between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I had a managerial position that I felt created a moral obligation for the company to award me enough to get through the holidays and beyond. During that time of year, you not only think about how you’re going to pay the bills but fulfill your children’s wishes for presents because that’s what they’re used to. You don’t want them to suffer, too, when they’re not old enough to understand. As it turned out, we used gift cards from Target, Best Buy and Borders, and I gave my older son the Marie Antoinette ejector head doll.

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