We’re in the 6th week of Ohio’s and Kentucky’s Stay at Home Orders, and we’re all feeling the effects of this new reality. It’s not easy for any of us, but some have been hit a lot harder than others. I’m getting a lot of calls from employees who’ve been laid off from their jobs, and they want to know what they should do, and if their rights may have been violated.
Some of these people have been offered a severance package in exchange for giving up or waiving any legal claims they may have, and they want to know if the severance offer is fair.
If you’re in that situation, here are some things to keep in mind:
First, in Ohio and most states, there is no legal requirement that your employer offer you severance at all. Many employers don’t, especially smaller ones who simply can’t afford to pay you if you’re not working.
So, even though you’re losing your job, which is very bad news at any time, but especially now, you’re fortunate if you’ve been offered a severance package at all.
But second, you should consider the reason you’re being laid off. And by that I mean the real reason, not necessarily the reason you were given by the employer. This is important because even though we are in an emergency, the laws against employment discrimination still apply. Employers cannot use this crisis as an excuse to get rid of older employees, or disabled employees, or female or minority employees, or for other unlawful reasons. If you suspect you are being targeted for an unlawful reason, you may have a claim that is greater in value than the severance you’re being offered.
But even if you don’t suspect an unlawful motivation is behind your lay-off, then there is still nothing wrong with asking for more severance, or longer health insurance coverage, or something else that would help you and your family get through this. The worst that can happen is your employer says “no.”
And keep this in mind: with the enhanced unemployment benefits in place now, some lower-paid workers may be just as well or better off accepting unemployment benefits instead of a severance package.
And finally, be aware of this: Sometimes a severance agreement will include things like a non-compete agreement, or a non-disparagement agreement which could legally limit your right to work or to express opinions in the future. You should make sure you understand exactly what rights you are giving up before you sign any severance agreement.
If you have lost your job, don’t give up; keep looking; keep planning, stay healthy, and spend this time getting yourself ready for the turn-around when it comes. Because it will come.
Good luck, and stay well.