Should I Sign Termination Papers?

I live in Florida and have been told I need to sign a termination letter stating I was let go due to insubordination, conduct and behavior deemed unacceptable in accordance with the company regulations, etc.

I have never refused or implied I was not going to do a task asked of me, and needless to say, I disagree with most of what was written. I am pretty sure it has it worded so they can contest any unemployment claims. I was told in order to receive the almost 2 weeks severance package I must sign the termination letter.

My question to you is would my signing the letter mean an acknowledgement that I agree or if I include, ‘Signed As To Receipt Only’ not work against me if I file for unemployment benefits.

I am not an expert on Florida’s unemployment policies, but I suspect that you are correct that your employer’s goal is to have evidence that they fired you for cause. Unless your salary is super-duper-high, two weeks of severance pay won’t be more than your potential unemployment payments.

Ultimately, your question needs to be answered by a Florida-based employment attorney, so I turned to Donna Ballman, author of Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired. (Incidentally, I highly recommend this book.)

Why would you have to do anything they tell you once you’re fired? Take a copy of the letter for your records. There’s no way for them to force you to sign. No, they can’t threaten to withhold pay. 

Now severance is something else. If they offer severance in exchange for signing, then sign with a notation, “As to receipt only.” That shouldn’t prevent you from presenting contrary information later. If they want you also to sign a release of claims, you might want to have a lawyer review it. You might be giving up potential legal claims for 2 weeks of pay. Those legal claims may give you leverage to negotiate a better severance package.

As to unemployment, it sure sounds like they plan to fight it. Be sure to gather any proof and witness names and contact information so you’ll have it for your appeal hearing in your state denies coverage. 

One other less known thing about being fired: employers are now required, starting April 1, to pick up your COBRA costs so make sure you elect COBRA when you get the paperwork.

Remember, employers only have power over us because we let them. You want the paycheck so you shut up and do your job. This is fine–we all have bills. But, once they’ve terminated you, they have nothing left to hold over your head. Two weeks severance is not worth giving up your rights.

One good test of how fair a document is is to say, “Before I sign this, I’m going to show it to my attorney.” If they demand you sign it RIGHT NOW, walk away. It’s not fair. Any organization that operates fairly and legally will say, “of course!” In fact, when I terminated people, I told them straight out, “please take these documents to your attorney for review before you sign.” Most people didn’t, but a good HR person and a good company will have no problem with you doing that.

Do apply for unemployment, and if the unemployment board denies your request, appeal. Always appeal.

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3 thoughts on “Should I Sign Termination Papers?

  1. In my state, when you offer severance with an agreement you are required to offer at least 21 days for the employee to review and a 7 day rescission period. The agreement never discusses behavior, just that we are parting ways with the employee. Any employer that lets you go and wants to contest your unemployment is shady, shady, shady. Don’t sign that.

  2. Funny that this situation involves a business in Florida, as my daughter, who is a Florida resident, had the exact same situation, pushed on her, and she refused to sign their letter and handed them, a letter stating she will accept their termination, as long as they agree to not deny unemployment claims. As I understand it, unemployment insurance is a fee paid by the employer, to cover claims by ex-employees.
    I don’t know the cost of this insurance, but I do know that there’s a large amount of private small businesses in Florida, who have to deal with the cost of running a profitable business, plus paying the employees at the, at least, state minimum wage, which I think is now for Florida, raising the state minimum wage to $15/hour over the next few years. Since my daughter asks me questions on the Florida labor laws, which also a right-to-work state, we have been discussing how employers try to avoid paying the unemployment insurance, I get the impression that it is not a cheap expense, however necessary the cost. But there’s a positive note to this, the Labor Department in Florida, does keep note of the employers who fight unemployment and usually push the claims through if the ex-employee files an appeal. So if you work in Florida and get fired, you will get unemployment. And don’t sign anything, they put in front of you,unless you read it in detail and don’t sign away your right to unemployment.

  3. “One good test of how fair a document is is to say, “Before I sign this, I’m going to show it to my attorney.” If they demand you sign it RIGHT NOW, walk away.”

    This advice is spot on!

    Twice in my life I have been presented with such a document and I stated that I would have a lawyer look over it before I signed it.

    In both cases they quickly withdrew the letter (the first time snatching the letter from my hands) and said that it wasn’t necessary for me to sign. hmmm? interesting how that played out both times, wasn’t it?

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