“Can I trust things my present employer is saying in meetings about severance and the intentions of the company’s new owners?”

Question: Earlier this year I was given notice of layoff, and was given a written description of what my severance package will be. Then, three times my termination date was extended, and it now goes to April 2010. I went ahead and signed the severance agreement

In meetings, I’m told by my present employer that later this year I will be offered a new offer of employment from the new owners, and if I want to stay on I will have to sign it before my present employment comes to an end.

In other meetings, I’m also being told by my present employer that, if I turn down the new offer, I will still get the promised severance in April.

In even more meetings, I’m also being told by my present employer that, if I take the new job, and then I’m laid off by the new employer, I’ll get the same severance package from the new employer.

Can I trust these things said in meetings by my present employer?

Ontario, Canada

Answer: In all probability, No. You can’t trust or rely on oral promises, spoken words or other assurances given to you in meetings. You can only really have faith in what you are given in writing, and which is preferably (a) signed by the employer, and (b) reviewed by an attorney.

This is why: the chances are very, very great your severance papers say something like this: “This agreement contains all of the promises made to you about this subject. It supersedes any and all other statements, representations, assurances and promises. It cannot be changed, modified or supplemented unless in a writing signed by the employer. You acknowledge that you are not relying on anything outside of this severance agreement.”

Bottom line is this: Unless it is in writing, and has been reviewed by your attorney licensed to practice law in your locale (preferably one with experience in employment matters), you can’t rely on spoken words. Consider them little more than what they probably are: hot air.

Sorry for the info. It may not provide comfort, but we deal only in candor.

We offer a 94-Point Master Severance Negotiation Checklist to make sure you don’t miss any severance-related issues or fail to spot problems in severance agreements. Sure helps to reduce anxiety! To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

Al Sklover

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