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Should I sign my employer's release form in exchange for severance pay?

Employers in California are not required by law to provide severance pay to anyone who is laid off or terminated (some exceptions apply). However, if your employer has provided you with a severance package, you should consider negotiating your severance and release terms, especially if you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated. Remember, it is unlawful for California employers to fire employees because of disability, gender, race national origin, disability, religion, sexual orientation, pregnancy or age. Whistleblowers reporting unsafe working conditions or illegal conduct are also protected.

Severance may be provided by your employer if you were laid off, fired, or even voluntarily resign. Severance packages may also include benefits. Unless there is an employment policy or contractual obligation, employers in California are not typically required to provide severance to employees. Sadly, most don't, except when they are worried about being sued for wrongful termination or harassment.

If you have been offered severance, consider the release terms and other employee benefits. For example, while examining the release terms, look to see if your employer describes precisely the amount of money or other benefits that you will receive. It should also include whether you will get a lump sum, monthly pay, weekly pay, etc., and the date on which the payments and benefits will stop. In addition, your release might also include a confidentiality provision and perhaps a non-disclosure clause. Other provisions in a release might include return of company property and choice of law clauses.

If you see something in the release that seems off, or that the release does not explain each provision, you might consider contacting an attorney before signing a severance agreement. You should seek legal help if you believe severance is being offered to cover up a wrongful termination.

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