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I quit my job and refused to sign a confidentiality agreement. Am I still entitled to a severance package?

Wednesday September 23, 2009
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I quit my job because I felt that I was being constructively discharged. I was given an agreement to sign for my severance pay that stated that I would not ever discuss or talk about this hospital again. I sought legal advice and never signed the contract. Am I still entitled to my severance package? I worked 33 years for this hospital.


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Rochelle,

You did not state why you did not sign the agreement in which a severance package was offered to you. It was wise of you to seek legal advice, so it is assumed that it was the attorney's advice that you not sign the agreement.

Whether you are still entitled to a severance package is governed by your state's laws. Many states do not require employers to offer a severance package to discharged employees. As a result, if one is offered, it is done out of "good will," done pursuant to a written employment contract that contained a severance benefit provision, or the employer wants something from the employee and is willing to provide severance pay in exchange (e.g., a confidentiality provision prohibiting the former employee from speaking about the hospital). Additionally, under federal law (the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act), if an older worker (40 years of age and older) is terminated and offered a severance package, the offer must be in writing and it must specifically spell out, in addition to other provisions, what the former employee is "giving up" for the package.

It would be a wise idea for you to contact the attorney with whom you consulted initially in order to determine what rights, if any, you now have to a severance benefit. He or she can advise you about this possibility and, if it exists, the attorney can work with you to obtain a severance package.


Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.