Be on the lookout for . . .
“Voluntary,” as in “Voluntary Departure,” “Voluntary Resignation”
or “Voluntary Waiver”
You’re quite likely to find the word “voluntary” in several work-related legal documents. If you do notice it, that word may be very advantageous to you.
Generally speaking, “voluntary” means “done on one’s own free will.” It is synonymous with discretionary, unforced and optional. In legal documents, it often suggests that the act described was not required, not coerced, and not demanded.
Let’s say that, according to your employer’s Annual Bonus Plan, you are not entitled to your annual bonus if you “voluntarily” resign before the day it is paid. What if, two weeks before bonus payment date, you resigned and left your job in fear that your boss might beat you up in one of his infamous uncontrolled rages?
Was your departure “voluntary?” I’d say no. Are you entitled to your annual bonus? I’d say yes, although I’m confident that most employers would disagree.
You have a strong, reasonable and likely winning argument that the bonus is yours, so long as you spot, appreciate and point to the word “voluntary.”
In Repayment Agreements, you might promise to repay your employer in, as examples, a Sign-on Bonus Agreement, a Relocation Expenses Policy, or a Tuition Assistance Plan if you “voluntarily” leave before two years of service. What if you left earlier than that because, all of a sudden, your salary was reduced by 40%, and your family likes to eat three meals a day? (Some kids demand 4 or 5!!)
Is feeding your hungry family “voluntary?” I’d say No. Was your departure to take a better paying job truly “voluntary?” I’d say No. For this reason, you have a very good, and probably winning, basis to argue, with likely success, that your repayment is not required.
So, in this circumstance, too, you may very well not have to repay any sign-on bonus, educational assistance, etc., so long, that is, as you spot, appreciate and raise in your defense the word “voluntary.”
The same goes for whether a Non-Compete Agreement is valid or void, according to its own words. If the non-compete says it is valid if you “voluntarily” leave your job, and you can show that you are allergic to the new paint used throughout the office, then it is void as to you, so long, that is, as you spot, appreciate and raise the word “voluntary.”
There are many other legal documents that may contain the word “voluntary.” Look for “voluntary” in any and every workplace document, whether in an agreement, a company policy, an Employee Handbook, Stock Award, or other document.
You may be VERY GLAD you did.
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