i am a senior real estate paralegal who was recently laid off from a law firm and am trying to negotiate my severance package, mainly to get paid my 2007 & 2008 bonus' and unused vacation and sick days and to have them buy out my blackberry contract that they made me sign up for. On 11/7/08 the managing partner advised that he'd review my requests with the other partner and get back to me by 11/10 at the latest. i have called and emailed several times with no response. per the severance letter i received 11/4, if i don't sign the release they gave me by the 25th the deal is off and i get nothing. do i have a strong enough case to sue to at least get paid my bonus' which were part of my compensation package, in addition to the rest of the severance package they offered?
king of prussia, Pennsylvania
calling and emailing my former employer to work out the problems and seeking advise from a family member who is an attorney, but not in this area of expertise.
Bonuses are at the discretion of the employer and are paid out in accordance with the employer's policy. This means that if you need to remain employed to collect the bonus, then you do not have a great chance of recovering the bonus. You have a decent argument for them to buy out the phone contract since you were forced to acquire it and you did so, thus you detrimentally relied on their paying for the phone. As far as sick days, PA does not consider sick days part of wages nor does it consider unused vacation days as wages to be paid upon Termination, but if the employer has done so in the past or has a policy that it will be paid, then the courts will force them to pay.
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thank you Paul. i may not have been clear in my question regarding the bonus portion of my question. i have worked for employers before where bonus' were just as you said, discretionary and the employer had clear 'programs' to address that point. this employer however, does not have any written policy that i have been made aware of (although some writings indicate that they do, nothing has been put forth in writing or otherwise in the 4 years since I've been there) and my hiring letter specifically states (under the compensation section) that i am entitled to annual bonus' of up to 10%. for 2005 & 2006 I was given 20% each year. in December 2007 the 3 partners gave me a Christmas gift and told me specifically that this was NOT my bonus, and that my bonus would be forthcoming. does any of this change your answer in any way? As an additional note, since 9/08 when the original managing partner was 'dismissed' b/c of conflicts with the firms only client i asked the other 2 partners about my job security specifically and was told by both of them that my job was never in jeopardy and that they absolutely could not run the place without me (they said this on several occasions, most recently only days before they called me in and said the client wasn't going to pay the firm to the tune of my and another persons salary so they had to lay me off). i am shocked that neither of them have returned any of my calls or emails since i thought we were friends as well as professionals, but for the sake of my family, i just really need to know if they can a) not honor my hiring letter, b) not honor their collective word (from all 3 of them) that at least my 2007 bonus was forthcoming, and c) renege on the separation package they offered as long as i sign the release by 11/25. thank you.
Welcome to the club as I was in the exact same situation last year. You can argue that at the very least you should receive the 2007 bonus and possibly a pro-rated 2008bonus based upon your written employment agreement, since it does not specify that you have to be employed by a certain date to be eligible and, as you know, any abiguities in a contract are held against the drafter of the contract. You have a written contract regarding at the very least the 2007 bonus, which you should have already been paid by now. The 2008 bonus may be arguable on their end if you did not remain employed for the entire 2008. Thus, on that part you can sue for breach of contract and their promises were at least some evidence that the bonus would be paid. As far as the separation package, the employer can put a deadline on it and generally the law holds that they must give at least 21 days for the employee to consider the package and have the opportunity to have it reviewed by an attorney before siging if this is an ordinary lay off and if it is a Reduction in Force, the employee gets 45 days to review and sign. Once the employee signs, they then have 7 days to rescind their agreement to accept the severance and must do so in writing. After the 21 days is up the employer can revoke the offer if it has not been signed, but once signed the employer cannot revoke the offer only the employee can rescind it.
Ok, but if i can't get them to return my calls or emails, how do i argue for the bonus and sign the release on time? if i sign the release without resolving the bonus issue doesn't the release waive my right to pursue the bonus? if i don't sign the release b/c the bonus issue is outstanding i risk losing everything. at the 20% rate i previously got we're talking about $16,700 annually. when i countered their proposal in writing (at the instruction of the partner i was negotiating with) back on 11/7 i said 15% for each of 2007 & 2008 would be acceptable. i can't believe i thought these people were my friends. our kids play ball together. i think we'll have to switch teams.
If they will not return your calls, hence, they are not interested in negotiating. This means you have a difficult choice to make, either sign the agreement and accept what is being offered or refuse to sign, forego the benefits and sue for breach of contract.
20+ Years of Employment Law Experience
wow, that sucks. wish you had an easier answer, but i appreciate your help nonetheless. thank you very much. any openings there for a real estate paralegal with 22+ years expierence??
It certainly does "suck" and after my firm closed and left me with zero severance and zero pay for unused vacation, I had to end up hanging my own shingle so things are rough in the law business.
Thanks for your help.
I know. Thank you.
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