When a large corporation downsizes, ex-employees may find that their severance agreements are littered with hard-to-understand legal terms. Ex-workers in Florida are often subject to contract terms that are supposed to prevent them from suing the company upon departure; in exchange, those individuals receive money or benefits on their way out the door. Now, though, a national agency is pursuing legal action against CVS Caremark over the language included in certain severance agreements, arguing that the documents violated employment law provisions.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleges that the nation’s second-largest drugstore chain included misleading information in its severance documents. Although the EEOC does not generally interfere with private contracts, the agency reportedly chose to intervene because the contracts in this case may have caused workplace bias. The CVS agreements in this case reportedly compromised workers’ rights to seek assistance from EEOC representatives. In other words, CVS may have prevented the EEOC from doing its job by distributing unfair severance plans.
News reports show that the EEOC is not seeking financial compensation for workers, but is instead working to prevent CVS from using unclear language in its severance agreement. The company would be required to inform workers of their rights, including the ability to file discrimination charges. Employees who choose to comply with EEOC investigations are also legally protected from employer retaliation.
Instead of emphasizing those rights, this contract allegedly attempts to block employees from assisting EEOC attorneys or investigators unless the company is directly notified. Further, employees are barred from disclosing information about wages or benefits to such investigators. This language has a chilling effect on the ability of workers to seek assistance from the EEOC if their rights are violated. The company argues that the language in the document was not intended to stop workers from contributing to EEOC efforts.
Workers who have been victimized by unfair separation agreements may benefit from consulting an employment attorney in Florida. These lawyers may be able to provide additional guidance for workers who have questions about their own severance agreements. Workers’ rights should not be restricted because a company fears reprisal from a federal agency.
Source: The Chicago Tribune, “Severance agreements: EEOC suit against CVS could be test case” Ameet Sachdev, Feb. 23, 2014