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I was "asked" to sign a legal form for my employer under duress at time of layoff. Is the contract binding?

Los Angeles, CA |

Under Federal and State (CA) law would a severance contract stating that the employee would not now nor ever litigate against the employer, even for current or past activities which may have violated labor law or other laws, hold any legal weight? The paper was signed under duress, the employee having been told they had only that day (an hour) to pack up and go, and had to decide right then whether to sign and receive severance pay, or not sign and get nothing (severance based on years of service.) Later the law was reviewed and found that 90 days must be given for layoffs. This also happened upon return to work from medical leave and return to full time hours. No current employees were allowed to converse with those being laid off either. This contract agreement would not be valid right

Attorney Answers 5

Posted

Typically, severance agreements releasing employment claims are enforceable. People are charged with knowledge of what they sign, unless it is written in a language they are not familiar with or they have a very limited education. Assuming you can prove that the severance agreement was presented as take it or leave it with only an hour to decide, so you did not have the opportunity to read, understand and review the document with counsel of your own choice, you raise some thorny ethical and legal issues. I am not confident they are enough to invalidate the release.

Please note there special rules regarding the validity of releases of age discrimination claims, which require a minimum number of days for you to consider the release and give you the option to revoke the release for an additional number of days. Finally, workers compensation claims cannot normally be released without approval of the worker's compensation appeal board.

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Asker

Posted

I later asked for my FULL employee file and there were several documents missing including this one. Also missing were all positive reviews, awards and promotion style team selections. Only records revolved around leave. I got ONE later look at it and it stated a longer time period than I was made to believe and the severance was not something they could have rescinded to my knowledge as it was a default for all terminations/layoffs. What would an attorney need to obtain the document and review it, a subpoena? Can I request a subpoena to receive a copy withoutt knowing exactly the document title? I know the apx. date.

Brad S Kane

Brad S Kane

Posted

There are multiple statutes that entitle you to access documents in your personnel file. You or an attorney can write a letter to your former employer requesting the following types of documents. Labor Code 432 requires employers to give an employee or job applicant, upon request, a copy of any instrument that the employee or applicant has signed relating to the obtaining or holding of employment. Labor Code 1198.5 requires that employers allow employees and former employees access to their personnel files and records that relate to the employee’s performance or to any grievance concerning the employee. An employer who fails to comply with a written request within 30 days can be subject to a $750 penalty, attorney's fees and injunctive relief. Under Labor Code 226(b), employers are required to permit current and former employees to inspect or copy payroll records pertaining to that current or former employee within 21 days. An employer who fails to comply is subject to a $750 penalty.

Christine C McCall

Christine C McCall

Posted

Items such as "positive reviews, awards and promotion style team selections" are often not maintained in the employee's "personnel file," and the law does not specify that these items must be retained there. Employees have a right to a copy of the personnel file, as set forth in detail here, but there is often a failure of employee expectation as to the contents of that file.

Posted

Good comprehensive article re federal requirements; note the disability claims references: http://mayalaw.com/2011/03/what-you-need-to-know-about-severance-packages/

A consultation with a California attorney who practices age and disability discrimination would be a sound option now.

My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.

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Posted

It will be your burden to prove it was under duress. Be prepared to have witnesses and/or correspondence for evidence and you will likely lose the he said she said argument.

NOTE: The use of the Internet for communications with the firm or this attorney will not establish an attorney-client relationship and messages containing confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent.

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Posted

Your question presents a number of fairly complicated issues. I recommend that you contact an attorney to discuss your situation. There are many fine attorneys on AVVO and the California Employment Lawyer's Association. Best of luck

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Posted

"This contract agreement would not be valid right." I don't see from your post what makes it automatically invalid; as suggested above the burden or proof may well be on you to acquire a judicial declaration that all or part of the release agreement is unenforceable. As others have said, it's multi-part question with complexities, and your other conclusion that the law says 90 days must be given for a lay-off is also worth a legal opinion as well, the rules for WARN type severance benefits are fairly complex. I think you should get your answers as part of an attorney-client relationship.

THIS IS A GENERAL ANSWER TO A GENERAL QUESTION AND SHOULD NOT BE RELIED UPON AS A FULL LEGAL ANALYSIS OF ANY FACTUAL MATTER. An attorney-client relationship is not established or offered solely as a result of this answer.

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