Employment Lawsuit Pro Tip: Don’t Take Legal Advice from Your Opponent

I (along with my brilliant jobshare partner) ran layoffs for a Fortune 100 company for several years. Our names and contact numbers went out on every single severance package, which means we handled hundreds and hundreds of calls with questions about this, that, or the other regarding the termination and severance, and what it meant when they signed the general release.

We would explain but advise the former employee to take the paperwork to their own attorney. First of all, we weren’t lawyers and were not giving legal advice, but even if we were lawyers, we represented the company, not the person.

We weren’t at all scared to send people to their own attorneys because the severance package was fair, the procedures were legal, and we had dotted every i and crossed every t. While laying off people is no fun, I can say I’m proud of my work and impressed with my former company that handled every layoff with integrity.

Your company may not be quite so honest.

They may tell you that you aren’t eligible for unemployment.

They may tell you that you must sign this resignation form.

They may tell you that your sexual harassment claim isn’t valid.

They may tell you that you were terminated for performance when you know it was your age.

They are your opponent. Don’t take legal advice from them.

Don’t sign anything you disagree with. An honest company has no problem with you taking your documents to an employment attorney to check out. A dishonest company will freak out and demand that you sign RIGHT NOW.

An honest company has no objection to you filing for unemployment. A dishonest company will tell you not to apply because you’re not eligible for unemployment. Always file and always appeal if denied.

An honest company will terminate you if they want you to leave. A dishonest company will pressure you to sign a resignation letter. (Caution: An honest company will sometimes give you the option of choosing resignation over termination. But in that case, they will be happy for you to discuss with your attorney. You can also negotiate a resignation over a termination. That’s fine. It’s the force and the pressure that makes it sketchy.)

An honest company will not terminate you for poor performance without warnings and discussions previously. Yes, you are most likely an at-will employee, and they don’t have to do this, but honest companies do. Of course, if you do something spectacularly awful, you can be fired instantly, even by an honest company. But it should be evident that there is a direct relationship between stealing computers and your termination.

Yes, lawyers cost money, and sometimes it is not worth it. But, it costs you nothing to say, “Let me take these documents to my attorney.” You can decide later whether you want an attorney to review them. It’s the reaction you’re looking for. If they freak out and tell you to SIGN RIGHT NOW, you can rest assured it is not in your best interest to sign,

This post is not legal advice. It is advice to get legal advice. Legal advice that is on your side, not on the company’s side.

Image by succo from Pixabay

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5 thoughts on “Employment Lawsuit Pro Tip: Don’t Take Legal Advice from Your Opponent

  1. Great article about the correct way to terminate employment. One other point concerning dishonesty companies, they may deliberately find minor fault performance to create documentation to cover the reasons for termination, especially if they don’t want to pay long term benefits or your job performance made their preferred worker look subpar.

    1. After experiencing a firing (and I will admit I was not a good fit for the role though I suspect I was hired to fill a seat in spite of my background not being the best for the role…but that’s another story), in subsequent jobs I would keep a notebook with me.

      Any time I had a meeting with my manager or a co-worker that I felt was questionable or could turn questionable, I jotted down what happened and what was said, along with the date and time. Nothing about how I felt or what I thought happened, just “Manager X told me…..” or “Co-Worker Y said….”

      The more documentation you have, the better.

  2. It goes the other way too. Our managers said, “Sign up for voluntary early retirement! You’ll get unemployment if you do.” They said, “Sign up now, because (don’t tell anyone I told you, but) you’ll be laid off with no benefits next week if you don’t.” They weren’t dishonest but they’d been given wrong information. I watched a fellow break down in tears when he found out he had unintentionally passed on lies to subordinates he cared a great deal about. My company had always been scrupulously honest and ethical, but with a new CEO, things had changed. So many of us didn’t realize how much until it was too late. Your advice is good for anyone being downsized under any circumstances, and a good idea even when the company is (or you believed it was) super ethical.

    1. Any time the company is pushing hard for something, the employee should really stop and think WHO this thing is benefiting.

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