Question: I was laid off and my employer is offering six weeks of severance. However, the severance is contingent on my working one more week – to do “transition” – while not an employee. Is it legal for them to ask me to do this?

Emily
Norwalk, Connecticut

Answer: The answer is “No.” No one can be asked, forced or required to work without payment, even if that payment is severance.

Your employer cannot have it both ways: either you are an employee, or you are not. While you are on severance, you are not an employee. However, if you are required to work, then you are an employee, and entitled not only to pay for your time, but also for contributions to (a) workers compensation insurance, (b) statutory short-term disability coverage, (c) and all other benefits employers are required to give to “employees.”

We do often see in severance agreements a requirement that you “cooperate in the future,” but that cooperation is not working during a transition, but only small amounts of time and effort to answer questions, etc. Being required to work for a week means you are an employee for a week.

You might consider sending your employer an anonymous note that “What you are doing is illegal. If you don’t stop it now, one of your employees is considering reporting you to Connecticut State Labor Commission,” or words to that effect. You might also just file the complaint and let the Connecticut State Labor Commission do the work for you.

Good luck to you in this, and in finding a new job.

Best, Al Sklover

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