Should I Sign a Release of Claims or Other Documents At Termination?
Being fired from a job is often surprising, shocking, hurtful, embarrassing, or some combination of these emotions. Most of the time, the only thought going through your mind is leaving the employer’s premises as quickly as possible. Even if a termination meeting catches you completely off-guard, most times the employer’s decision was preplanned, reviewed by Human Resources and even approved by your employer’s legal counsel. When your employment is terminated, your employer may instruct you to sign documents relating to your discharge. YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO SIGN ANY DOCUMENTS!!! I can almost guarantee that in the moments following your termination, your ability to focus, review, and understand paperwork will be somewhere between significantly diminished and nonexistent. Once your employment has been terminated, what more can your ex-employer possibly do to you if you simply refuse to sign any paperwork until you have had a chance to carefully review it? The answer is absolutely nothing. I am not suggesting you refuse to accept the paperwork. To the contrary, I encourage you to gather any papers your employer asks you to sign, inform whoever is present that you are not willing to sign the documents at this time, but that you will be in contact once you have a chance to review them. Then leave—do not argue, debate or discuss your termination.
It is not uncommon for employers to request signatures on documents that purport to release your legal claims, limit your right to obtain employment with competitors, or provide an admission regarding the conduct for which you were terminated. Sometimes, employers will instruct you to sign a release under the guise that it is “required” to obtain your earned vacation pay, a reference, or severance. In most circumstances, be suspicious if an employer wants a signature “on the spot.” Typically, you are signing away some important legal right. Even if your employer is offering you a generous severance package, it is the rare case that you will not be entitled some amount of time to review and consider the offer.
Once you have a signed a release, it is difficult (if not impossible) to successfully pursue a legal claim against your ex-employer. In these circumstances, before the Court will even consider your wrongful discharge, retaliation, or harassment claim, you will have to overcome the presumption that you have waived your legal claim by signing a release. To overcome this presumption, you will have to prove you were coerced or tricked into signing the release. Most times, the Court will find in favor of the employer and enforce the release.