“Can my employer require me to sign a document acknowledging that I was terminated for poor performance as a condition to my receiving severance?”

Question: Alan, I was recently terminated from a sales job without warning. I believe the main reason this happened is that they wanted to hire someone younger and fresh out of college to pay a lower base salary. Now HR has sent me a letter stating that, if I want severance, I need to sign a form in which I acknowledge that my termination was for poor performance. The letter said that they would not release my severance checks until I did so.

Can they require that I do this in order to collect severance?

Paul
Washington, D.C.

Answer: Yes, employers can place conditions on payment of severance, including the one you write about.

In almost every employer severance plan I’ve seen, the payment of severance is conditioned upon the employee agreeing to sign a release of claims and other documents required by the employer. You always have the right to say “I won’t sign that,” but your employer always has the equivalent right to say “Then we won’t pay you severance.”

Severance is a kind of business transaction: “If you sign what we want, we will pay you some money and give you some benefits.” Both sides are free to accept, negotiate or reject the “deal” offered.

Sorry if that is not the news you were hoping for, but that is the truth.

Best,
Al Sklover

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