By Jennifer Lankford, Labor and Employment Attorney
Exiting a job, whether voluntary or involuntary, is rarely a pleasant experience. Change is hard, even when it is for the best. And, as if the holiday season were not busy enough, such employment changes often accompany the beginning of the New Year.
Devotees of ThriveAP read my past comments on preparing for and successfully mastering employment contract negotiations as nurse practitioners. Here, I offer equally important suggestions for severance agreements, which often accompany the end of an employment relationship.
For those unfamiliar, severance agreements are often offered by companies to existing employees to ensure a collegial transition into unemployment or into a new job position. Of importance, employers are not required to present employees with a severance package, unless otherwise contractually obligated. Tis the season for gifts, but keep in mind — this gift has strings. Severance packages are almost always accompanied by releases of certain rights. Below, I highlight items of significance for nurse practitioners to consider when offered a severance agreement:
Compensation: At the heart of a severance agreement is the promise to pay an employee for a specific period of time. The reasons behind offering severance are varied and range from gracious offers to assist employees to the desire to avoid future litigation. Unless otherwise established by company policy, severance amounts can vary. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve (or desire) before signing.
Signing a Release: Speaking of signing, no severance agreement is complete without a release of claims. This is boilerplate language in any agreement and generally involves the employee agreeing to release the company from any and all claims against it in exchange for the offered compensation. The significance of this waiver largely depends on the circumstances of your exit from employment.
Employee Benefits: If you are transitioning into unemployment or into a new job without immediate health insurance coverage, it is important to examine whether the agreement include subsidization of your employment benefits. If asked, your employer may consider continuing to pay the company’s portion of such benefits for a limited period of time. Similarly, it is worth getting in writing, if you will be unemployed, that your employer will not challenge any request by you for unemployment compensation benefits.
Restrictive Covenants: Pay attention to whether any restrictive covenants, such as a non-compete or a non-solicitation agreement, are part of the arrangement. For additional information on the significance of such covenants, check out my previous article.
Review, Consult, Decide: Finally, severance agreements are contracts and should be thoroughly reviewed. Do not hesitate to take home the agreement and contact your attorney to discuss its contents. The worst way to start a new year is by entering into an inequitable contractual arrangement. Whatever you decide – to sign or not to sign – your decision should be informed.
Jennifer Lankford is an assocaite attorney at Thompson Burton, focusing her practice on labor and employment law. If you have questions about nurse practitioner employment, Jennifer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.