Should I sign a waiver of legal rights for my severance?

I worked for a small privately owned company which had a executive shift. Afterwards, the

new CEO, formerly the previous COO, outsourced my position as in-house graphic designer. I was told that my position would be fine but eventually the executive staff slowly started leaving me out of my job related duties. They have now laid me off and offered a 3 weeks of pay as severance if I sign a contract within 5 business to waive all legal rights. As much as I need my

severance package, it is very blatantly capitalized in bold that I must forego any legal action. There have been several issues within my time there. As it was an addition to my contract that I be given annual reviews and have the opportunity to discuss pay reviews. Within my almost 3 years, I had only 2 reviews. The first was my 30 day which happened only because I was

contractually obligated to get a raise. And 1 well over 2 years after the first because I had to continually as for a review as I was the only full-time employee who didn’t get an executive lead yearly review when the rest of the staff had. I was also told that I would receive another cost of living raise during that review which would take go into effect at the beginning of the year. I finally asked when my raise would go into effect 2 months ago but was told that they were still working on budgets so I would need to wait. The entire situation has always felt off, especially given the small list of issues and events that have occurred throughout my employment, and wonder if signing away my right to bring legal action is the proper thing to do?

Asked on May 22, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Washington


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

If you had a written contract that *guaranteed* certain raises or bonuses, which you did not receive, then if the combined total of the raises you should have received but were denied is greater than the severance, you may wish to either negotiate higher severance (using the threat of legal action as leverage) or to decline signing and sue.
BUT a review does not automatically equal a raise, so merely being guaranteed a review does not mean you'd have received a raise. There is no general legal obligation to treat staff fairly or the same, and no obligation to give COLAs, either. (And a promise of a COLA whihch is not in a contract is generally unenforceable.) If all you had was a contract saying you'd be reviewed, you actually had very little. Given that in that case, if you'd sue, you'd be unlikely to recover compensation, and that the company is under no obligation to provide any severance if you don't sign the agreement, you may wish to sign to make sure you get at least 3 weeks salary.

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