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Posts tagged: Release

How Important Are The Deadlines In Your Severance Package?

By , December 6, 2018 1:43 pm

You are terminated from your job and your employer offers you a severance package. They give you one week to sign the offer and ask that you sign a full and final release confirming that there will be no further payments. Are you obligated to sign and return the offer within a week?

We often receive this question from recently terminated employees who are scrambling to find legal advice within a few days while also dealing with the stress of their termination.

If we are first contacted close to the deadline we often advise employees to simply request an extension from their employer. In our experience, the vast majority of employers will consent to this request. It is important to remember that it is in your employer’s best interest to reach a reasonable deal with you.  Just because you do not sign and accept their severance package before the deadline, does not make their legal obligations to you disappear. Further, the deadline is only important if you are accepting the offer.

You should have your severance package reviewed by a lawyer before accepting it because, in many cases, it is possible to negotiate a better severance package. It is not unusual for employers to offer severance packages that barely meet the minimum standards set out in the Employment Standards Act. You may be entitled to considerably more pay than the minimum standard.  Even if have signed an employment contract with a legally enforceable termination clause, it is possible that you could be entitled to a large severance package because of conduct that occurred during your employment such as harassment and discrimination. Unless you are certain that their severance package is fair you should not sign a severance offer and release until you have consulted with a lawyer.

At least one Ontario judge has unfavourably viewed stringent deadlines requiring an employee to sign a severance package and release.  In Rubin v. Home Depot Canada Inc., 2012 ONSC 3053 the Court found that even though an employee had signed a “release” shortly after his termination, the release was not binding. The Court found that the employee had not been given sufficient time to consider the offer.  Ultimately the Court awarded him significantly more notice than his employer had offered him.

Lessons for Employees:

  1. If you need more time to obtain legal advice ask your employer for an extension to sign the severance package, particularly if you are given less than 5 business days to consider the settlement offer.
  2. Always consider having your severance package reviewed by a lawyer because it is possible you could be entitled to a greater notice period. Especially if you are a long service employee. Remember: you don’t know what you don’t know.

If you would like to speak to an employment lawyer at the MacLeod Law Firm, you can reach us at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.

What to do when you receive a release from your employer?

By , September 26, 2018 10:00 am

When an employee is terminated and offered a severance package, they are almost always asked to sign a release agreement in exchange. A release agreement, as the name suggests, releases the employer from liabilities for employment-related claims. Thus, after an employee has signed a release agreement, if they attempt to sue their employer later on, the release agreement is typically raised as a bar for the employee to proceed with litigation.

There are certain circumstances in which a court will not enforce a release. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice recently allowed an employee to proceed with claims against his former employer regarding long-term disability (“LTD”) insurance, even though he had signed a release in exchange for the severance package when his employment ended.

Facts

In Swampillai v Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Company of Canada, Mr. Swampillai worked for the employer for several years before he became disabled from working and began receiving LTD benefits. After two years, the insurance company advised he was no longer qualified for benefits. Mr. Swampillai retained a law firm to appeal the LTD denial, and while that appeal was ongoing, the employer advised him that his employment was being terminated. His employer offered him an amount that exceeded his minimum entitlements under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“the ESA”) for pay in lieu of notice, and an additional lump sum amount for loss of benefits. Mr. Swampillai was told that if he did not accept the offer and sign the release, the offer would be revoked and he would only receive his ESA entitlements. After some negotiation regarding the amount for pay in lieu of notice, Mr. Swampillai signed the release, which purported to release the employer and insurance company from claims regarding his LTD benefits.

As a result, both the employer and the insurance company brought a motion for summary judgment asserting that the employee was not entitled to make any claim against the employer for disability benefits, or against the insurance company for the administration of those benefits.

Decision

The court found that the release was unconscionable as it related to Mr. Swampillai’s LTD claim, and that Mr. Swampillai was allowed to proceed with the LTD claim despite the language in the release that precluded him from doing so. In other words, although the court found the release was legally binding with respect to the pay in lieu of notice, the court declined to enforce the benefits aspect of the release because it was too unfair to Mr. Swampillai, a vulnerable employee.

The test for unconscionability has four elements:

  1. A grossly unfair and improvident transaction;
  2. The victim’s lack of independent legal advice or other suitable advice;
  3. An overwhelming imbalance in bargaining power caused by the victim’s ignorance of business, illiteracy, ignorance of the language of the bargain, blindness, deafness, illness, senility, or other similar disability; and
  4. The other party’s knowingly taking advantage of this vulnerability.

The court noted that there had not been money specifically allocated towards releasing the LTD claim, that the employer knew Mr. Swampillai was in the process of appealing the denial, and neither the employer nor the insurance company drew Mr. Swampillai’s attention to the fact that the release would bar him continuing in that process.

Lessons to be Learned

Although this story had a happy ending for Mr. Swampillai, it is important to highlight that generally speaking, courts do not take it upon themselves to intervene when people have been handed a raw deal. Therefore, when presented with a release, it is always recommended that you speak to a lawyer so you understand the true nature of the deal you have struck.

However, as this case illustrates, there may be instances where a court does intervene, particularly when dealing with a vulnerable employee.

If you have received a release and want to review it with a lawyer, or if you have cold feet after signing a release and want to know if there is any way around it, you can contact an employment lawyer at MacLeod Law Firm at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.

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