Job separation: most people cringe at the very idea, although most of us have experienced it. And to be fair, it’s not always a bad thing. Oftentimes, it occurs for a positive reason; the advancement of a career or a movement to “greener pastures.”
Unfortunately, there is also the circumstance where a separation is initiated by the employer; a lay-off, firing or downsizing. And let’s be honest, these are generally unpleasant for the suddenly-out-of-work employee. However, some employer-initiated separations come with a “separation agreement” (sometimes referred to as Termination Agreement, Severance Agreement or Separation Agreement and General Release), which specifies the terms of your termination and severance package. And depending on the circumstances of the separation, these packages can be quite generous. So, when handled correctly, this agreement can be a useful and positive tool for the employee.
Don’t miss the key phrase here: when handled correctly. Employees should be aware that these separation documents are drawn up by the employer, and generally favor them; they are also a contract in which the employee relinquishes their legal rights. As such, they need to be reviewed very carefully.
To protect yourself, you must be very careful with the wording of various documents. Have the key details spelled out legally, by an attorney, and make sure you understand the ramifications of the agreement. This is of particular importance if you sued your former employer and are now negotiating a separation package.(Note: In most states, you will not want to use the word “severance” or “severance agreement.” Severance is a term used by both federal and state governments to denote a specific type of payment. It may adversely impact your tax, unemployment and other benefits. A labor and employment attorney can advise you on this subject.)
One key thing that is often overlooked in the negotiation of these packages is the rules about how this (now former) employer will react to a request from a potential employer for reference information. This is an important issue; don’t let it fall through the cracks!
So, what should the legal agreement with your former company say about its obligations to provide references to potential employers? (Need specific legal advice and direction here? Allison & Taylor can arrange for an attorney to write a custom clause for your particular situation.)
Here are some tips on what a former employer should NOT be allowed to do or say when asked for reference information:
1. Make a reference to legal action. “Hold on a moment, let me get the legal file to see what I am allowed to say.” There should be NO reference whatsoever that the former employee may have sued – new companies do not want to hire someone who sues former employers.
2. Nothing at all. They MUST return a reference call. After all, what does it say when a former company, boss or the HR department does not return a reference call? It’s a very strong hint to a potential employer that there were issues or problems with the employee.
3. Have a bad attitude, or any other type of inflection when interviewed. No negative sound bites. (See some of the unbelievable things former employers have said here.)
4. Offer any other opinions whatsoever. When providing a reference, they need to stick to the facts.
5. Offer any type of personal conversations within the industry. “Off-the-record” conversations which malign a former employee must be taboo as it can be considered “blackballing.”
Here are some tips on what employers/reference providers SHOULD be saying and doing per a legal agreement.
1. They should, in a polite and friendly way, verify title, dates of employment and salary for prospective employer. This verifies the information that is required on most employment applications.
2. They should courteously decline to provide any additional information. When asked other questions, they need to politely say, “Our corporate policy does not allow me to give any additional information.”
Taking the time to clarify these reference requirements in your separation package may make a huge difference in your ability to get a job in the future. Also, don’t just assume that the company reference policy will be followed; in many cases, it is not. And a legal agreement on reference conduct can mean the difference between a lukewarm or negative reference, and one that is positive and professional.
For more information on conducting a reference check, please visit AllisonTaylor.com.
Are you protected by your old company’s policy to only confirm the dates and title of employment?
Our experience is, that with a little pressure, most managers break company policy and speak their mind to either help or hurt a candidate’s chance at another job. Who from your past job will help you or hurt you – you need to know.
Is your past boss badmouthing you?
50% of our clients have lost good job offers due to bad or mediocre comments from previous employers. Reference-Letters.com will confidentially find out what is really being said about you and give you the power to stop it!
Interviewing well but not getting the job?
Maybe it’s something that a past employer or reference is saying. Could a jealous colleague be sabotaging you? Could your past boss be less than happy at your departure? Reference-Letters.com will help you find out.
Do you have a separation agreement with your past employer? Is it being honored?
Is your past employer giving you the professional and prompt reference that was promised or are they saying, “Well according to our agreement I can only confirm that he worked here.” Reference-Letters.com will find out what is really being said and give you the power to enforce your agreement.
Were you a victim of discrimination, sexual harassment or wrongful termination?
Your previous employers could be affecting your new job search through their comments to prospective employers. Don’t let them continue to hurt you and your career.
Are you being BLACKBALLED?
Last year our clients were awarded more than $2 million in settlements. Reference-Letters.com will find out what is really being said about you and give you the power to stop it!
You’ve put time and effort into your resume, developed your network of possible employers and recruiters, worked on your interview skills – but have done nothing but typed a list of your references. Don’t leave this crucial area to chance. References are the final factor in who gets the job offer. Your past employers – anyone you reported to will be contacted. Do you know what they will say? Reference-Letters.com will find out what is really being said about you.