What are the pros and cons of using a “release” during a termination case?
Many companies assume that an employee termination automatically means offering the employee severance pay and a separation agreement with a release of claims to avoid a potential employee lawsuit. There are certainly advantages to the use of separation agreements to prevent possible legal headaches, but they may not be appropriate in all instances.
An employer should consider factors, such as employer policy, practice and employee relations philosophy when determining whether to offer a terminated employee a severance package in return for a release of claims. Typically the amount of severance is insignificant when compared to the cost of defending an employee claim, especially when the termination is a difficult one or the person being terminated is likely to assert a claim. On the other hand, there are sometimes factors that may deter you from offering severance with a release of claims. For example, some employers offer severance to ALL employees due to fear of lawsuits (regardless for the reason of the termination), and this can drive up overall costs for the company. It is also important to note that just by offering an employee a severance agreement with a release of claims; the company may unintentionally generate claims.
Finally, employers should carefully consider any precedent established by offering severance with a release of claims to only certain groups of employees. Some terminated employees have claimed “reverse discrimination” and argued that the employer engaged in unlawful discrimination due to offering severance only to terminated employees in a certain category.
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