“How can I get a copy of a document I signed and gave to my former employer?”

Question: I left my job as part of a “negotiated resignation” in which I agreed to leave, and my employer agreed to accept my resignation on certain, agreed terms.

I have asked my employer for a copy of what I signed, but they are unwilling to give it to me. Instead, they have given me a letter from HR saying only that “You resigned.”

Is there anything I can do to get a copy of what I signed? 

Canon City, Colorado

Answer: Dear Julie: There are basically two ways to get a copy of what you signed:

1. First, Try “Positivity”: We always recommend being “positive” first, by going to the right person and expressing what you want in the right way. That is, we suggest a respectful letter to the President, CEO, Owner, or Board of Directors saying, in effect, “I do not want to become adversarial, or hire a lawyer; I only want a copy of what I signed, which is being denied me for no good reason. I need a copy of what I signed to make sure I abide by it.” In such a letter, sent in a verifiable manner (email, certified mail, or FedEx), you should lay out what happened, when you signed the letter, who you gave it to, etc. These usually work.

2. If That Doesn’t Work, Try “Negativity”: I don’t know what was in your Resignation Letter, but if you could argue that it is of some value to you, try going to your city’s Small Claims Court, and filing a claim against your former employer stating that you believe a copy of that Resignation Letter is worth $5,000 or $10,000 to you, that you understood you would get a copy, and that you deserve a copy. I think that it may be very valuable, as not having a copy could prevent you from getting a new job.

Most Small Claims Courts do not require you have an attorney, and only charge about $10 or $15 to file a claim. In all probability, your former employer (a) will have to hire an attorney, (b) will have to come forward with a “defense” to your complaint, and (c) probably will have to show a copy of the Resignation Letter to the Court. You, in turn, would then get a copy.

More likely, your former employer will simply “smarten up” and give you what you want to avoid Small Claims Court. You will then get your copy, and perhaps a financial settlement, as well.  

By the way, if as part of your “Negotiated Resignation” you had to sign a release of claims, that release of claims would NOT cover this claim, because releases of claims do not cover claims that arose AFTER you signed it; they only cover claims that arose BEFORE you signed it. 

Small Claims Court is often a very valuable place to be for an employee, as it does not require a lawyer, costs little, and employers HATE having to hire an attorney or send an HR representative to them. 

I really think this two-pronged approach should work. You have little to lose and a whole lot – including the satisfaction of standing up for yourself – to gain.

Hope this works; really do. Good Luck to you!!

          My best, Al Sklover

©  2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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