An employee often contacts our office with a severance package within a day or two of being terminated. The person wants to know if their severance package is fair. The employee has generally been given five to seven business days to decide whether to accept the settlement offer.
At the MacLeod Law Firm, we view every employee as a person first and recognize that every termination is different. Here are three issues that I usually address when meeting a terminated employee for the first time:
The Employee’s State of Mind
Some employees welcome a severance package whereas others are devastated by it. I resist taking instructions from an angry or over-emotional client. I therefore suggest ways for the client to process strong emotions before providing me with instructions. Sometimes this means simply sleeping on it for a night or two and on occasion this might involve counseling.
The Employee’s Health
If the employee had health issues prior to receiving a severance package, I often suggest that the client immediately schedule a medical appointment. Employees can often be very good at masking their emotions so I will ask how the person is sleeping, if they are feeling anxious, or whether the person has told his/her family about the termination. I will ask the employee to explain to his/her physician what has happened and if there are any medical issues that will affect the legal issues. At a minimum, I need to know whether the person is medically able to seek alternative employment, or use outplacement counseling.
The Employee’s Re-Employment Prospects
In a wrongful dismissal action, an employee must prove damages, which is generally lost income. Accordingly, the length of unemployment determines the quantum of damages. Sometimes the person has seen the termination coming and has already secured a job. In other cases, the severance package comes as a complete shock. In the latter situation, it is often difficult to assess the person’s re-employment prospects immediately after his/her termination. Although difficult it is critical for the client to quickly assess the job market; by speaking to headhunters, by calling competitors (subject to restrictive covenants) and, by calling people in the industry. This assessment is critical in the drafting of an initial demand letter. It will inform my first settlement proposal.
At MacLeod Law Firm, we know that a terminated employee can be vulnerable and emotional. We endeavor to address the whole person in relation to their severance package to negotiate the best settlement.