Employment terminations are difficult for both managers and employees. Because of the sensitivities involved and the desire to avoid litigation, managers should take special care in drafting the severance agreement and release and in conducting the termination meeting.
For California employers, one of the most important contract provisions is to require that the employee waive all rights under Section 1542 of the California Civil Code. This Section, which is well-known to attorneys but not necessarily to business managers, states: “A general release does not extend to claims which the creditor does not know or suspect to exist in his or her favor at the time of executing the release, which if known by him or her must have materially affected his or her settlement with the debtor.”
In the U.S., most employment is “at will”. This means that either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment at any time, for any legitimate, non-discriminatory reason, with or without cause. The typical senior executive, in contrast, has an employment agreement that runs for a number of years and allows termination only for cause. The reason: Attracting and retaining key executives is critical for any company’s success.
By the time I am called in, the parties usually are at or near agreement on salary and the amount of equity compensation (stock options or grants). In addition, the employer’s benefits program usually is well-defined. I have found that most of the negotiation effort goes into the following provisions: