Job Security Secret:
If you hear “At Will,” think “Unless Otherwise Agreed” (“U.O.A.”)
Whenever an employee talks about having no Job Security, they almost always mention that they are only an “at will” employee.” The discussion should not end there.
Most people know that “at will” employment means that either the employer or the employee may end their work relation at any time. It is a kind of harsh freedom for each party to end the work relation. But each side can also, when it wishes, seek to place a limit on the harshness of the other’s freedom by “agreeing otherwise.”
Here’s the best example: most employers want employees to “agree otherwise” by giving two or four weeks notice before they depart, so the employer might make necessary transition arrangements. This is an agreement to limit “at will” by “agreeing otherwise.”
Well, you can also seek to limit the harshness of being told you are no longer needed by asking your employer – when you may have the leverage – to “agree otherwise.”
As examples, (1) asking for at least four weeks’ notice before your last day on the job, (2) asking for at least two months’ severance if you are asked to leave, and (3) asking that your employer will give you a pro-rata bonus and/or vest you in any unvested cash or stock awards, when you are asked to leave.
Here’s another valuable one: If you are asked to relocate to another state or country, as a condition to the relocation you might ask your employer to “agree otherwise” that, if you are going to be terminated, you will not be terminated until the end of your kids’ school semester, to avoid unexpected disruption in their schooling.
These are all “agreed otherwise” limits on the harshness of “at will” employment. The examples cited above are only a few of many, each a kind of “medicine” that eases the pain of “at will” employment, and represents the functional equivalent of a kind of Job Security. This is what a good employment attorney should do for you, but here’s the real secret: you can do it by yourself!
Don’t be bashful about asking for “agreed otherwise” measures to soften the blow of your employer’s decision to end the relation.
So, if you are confronted with an offer letter or employment contract, don’t be bashful, be proactive. Don’t be reticent to say, in effect, “I understand your concern about employees departing without prior notice. Do you understand my concern about being asked to leave the same way?”
You can also ask for such an “agreed otherwise” limitation on “at will’s” harshness at a time you may feel extra “leverage,” such as when (a) you are being asked to sign an offer letter, (b) you have just closed a big sale, (c) you have achieved a great victory, or (d) your employer is asking you to sign a Retention Agreement in fears you might leave.
So, remember: if you ever hear or see the phrase “At Will” always think “Unless Otherwise Agreed,” what we call “U.O.A.” It will be a great step forward in your sophistication of thinking about “Navigating and Negotiating for Yourself at Work.”™
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