If your job recently ended and the employer offered you a severance agreement you’re considering, before you respond– i.e. before you submit the signed agreement to the employer, or try to negotiate with the employer, etc.– please avoid making the number one mistake.
And that number one mistake is this: failing to have a free phone call/consult with an employee rights lawyer.
Yes, I know this advice is self-interested, as I am an employee rights lawyer who wants employees to call me about severance agreements they were just presented.
But, here’s the thing: you don’t have to call me. It’s in your interest to call AN employee rights attorney, whether that’s me or someone else. And many employee rights attorneys, including myself but many others, offer initial phone consults for free. (Note, the number one mistake above is to fail to make a “free” attorney call, not failing to make a paid call for which you pay fees).
If, during the free initial call, the attorney proposes you pay a given legal fee if you retain him or her for future legal services, you of course don’t have to agree to pay that fee or retain the attorney if you can’t or don’t want to do so.
More importantly, during that free call, the attorney can help you. Among other things, an experienced employee rights attorney could:
— Tell you, based on his or her experience with hundreds of severance cases/scenarios, what types of strong legal rights or negotiation leverage exist and/or don’t exist, and what types of actions are likely to work and not work for your situation;
— Tell you the value of potential legal claims (if any), and explain the reasons why, and why that assessed value is different than the legal or severance valuation you had had in mind;
— Tell you what risks exist that you otherwise wouldn’t have known if you acted on your own without legal advice; for example, common risks include the employee misdiagnosing his or legal rights/leverage/severance value and losing potential money or severance improvements as a result, and the risk of employer-retaliation (eg challenging unemployment benefits because they have a dispute or are upset with something the employee said during or as a result of severance negotiations);
— Ask you certain questions (that a non-attorney wouldn’t have basis to know or ask yourself), with strong potential legal rights sometimes being discovered as a result of said questions and answers; and
— Could potentially offer to help you with strong legal options– including options you may have not known even existed– and could offer to represent you on a contingency fee arrangement or other fee arrangement that is win-win based or involves little or no money paid out of pocket.
If any of the info above would be of use to you, and you could obtain it for free, then why not make a free call to an employee rights attorney? Again, that attorney need not be me. So, in my view, there is much that could be gained, and nothing to lose, in having a free phone consult call about your severance offer with an experienced employee rights attorney. Failing to have such an attorney consult call can result in big disadvantages (e.g. not knowing proper legal rights or leverage, resulting in lesser severance terms or payment or in higher risks, etc. etc.), and thus is the number one mistake with severance agreements that I observe in my legal practice.