Unfortunately, among other things, 2020 has been the year of people getting laid off. It’s understandable that businesses have had to make these tough decisions. A lot of good workers have found themselves out of work.
The only silver lining for some of these workers is that many of them are getting severances. Under Illinois law, you have a right to have any severance package offered to you reviewed by an attorney. The question is, what difference will that make and is it worth it?
The employment law attorneys we know who are experienced in reviewing severance packages, typically charge between $750-$1,000 for their time. To be honest, for most people it’s not worth it. I say that for a few reasons:
1. Your employer isn’t required to offer a severance at all. What you get is done by them for good will and to close out any legal claims you might have even though most people don’t have any.
2. Because they don’t have to offer a severance, most people have no leverage to negotiate it. If they offer everyone one week’s pay per every year worked, they aren’t likely to give you more than that because if they did it for you it would open them up to having to do it for others.
3. These documents are typically prepared by outside law firms who have no connection to you and no care of the meaningful contributions you made. They are emotionless by design and basically drive the bus in limiting their clients (your employer) from making very many changes to the boiler plate language they create.
4. So unless your goal is really just understanding what everything means, you are paying an attorney a decent amount of money to review a document when they won’t be able to get much if anything changed about it.
If you believe you were illegally laid off for reasons such as having complained about sexual harassment, your age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc and can prove it, then you might have leverage to get more money out of this. That’s when getting a lawyer does make sense and in many cases they can work on a contingency basis which means they only get paid if they get you more money. Essentially they would get the employer to pay more for you giving up valid legal claims.
For everyone else, here are some things to know and ask for in your severance. The might say no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
1. You can’t give up your rights to work comp benefits via a severance agreement in Illinois. If you’ve been injured at work though it’s wise to talk to a work comp attorney before signing anything (call us at 312-346-5320 if you want a free consultation).
2. Getting a severance doesn’t prevent you from applying for unemployment. I recommend that you ask that they put in writing that they won’t contest your unemployment. We’ve seen many companies lay someone off and then fight unemployment. That shouldn’t happen and one sentence added could save you some grief.
3. Know that you are giving up your rights to sue them for almost anything. If you think you might have a claim for something, talk to a lawyer first. You are also likely giving up compensation claims for things like vacation pay or owed commissions. Calculate what you are owed to make sure you aren’t being taken advantage of.
4. In my experience, it’s usually the little, non-monetary things they will agree too. Maybe they’ll extend your company phone privileges. They likely will let you keep your cell number. Perhaps you can get them to agree to a positive recommendation for your future employment opportunities.
5. Remember that anything verbal they tell you that isn’t in this document is not legally enforceable because you can bet that the document says that. If it’s important to you and you think it’s been agreed to, ask for it in writing.
Every case and situation is different. I’m not saying you shouldn’t consider having an attorney review. What I am saying is that most people I talk to learn the cost and decide that it’s not worth it because they have no evidence of illegal activity by their employer and thus have no leverage to change the terms of what has been offered.