Thank you for the clarification.
There is a federal law in play there. Under the Age Discrimination
in Employment Act, your employer cannot force you to immediately sign a severance agreement if the agreement includes a promise to not sue.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission, if your agreement includes a waiver of age claims, then there are seven factors that must be satisfied. At a minimum:
1. A written waiver must be written in a manner that can be clearly understood. EEOC
regulations emphasize that waivers must be drafted in plain language geared to the level of comprehension and education of the average individual(s) eligible to participate. Usually this requires the elimination of technical jargon and long, complex sentences. In addition, the waiver must not have the effect of misleading, misinforming, or failing to inform participants and must present any advantages or disadvantages without either exaggerating the benefits or minimizing the limitations.
Example : An employee, who had worked for his company for 28 years, was selected for an involuntary RIF and asked to sign a "General Release and Covenant Not to Sue” (severance agreement) in exchange for money. The severance agreement provided, among other things, that the employee “released” his employer “from all claims . . . of whatever kind,” including claims under the ADEA
and any other federal, state, or local law dealing with discrimination
in employment. The severance agreement also referenced “covenants not to sue” and stated that “[t]his covenant not to sue does not apply to actions based solely under the [ADEA].” After reading the severance agreement, the employee asked his supervisor if the exception for ADEA claims contained in the covenant not to sue meant he could sue the employer if his suit was limited to claims under the ADEA. His supervisor contacted the employer’s legal department and then sent the employee an e-mail stating, "Regarding your question on the General Release and Covenant Not to Sue, the wording is as intended. . . . . The site attorney was not comfortable providing an interpretation for you and suggested you consult with your own attorney."
The employee signed the agreement, collected severance benefits, and then sued his employer for age discrimination under the ADEA. A court held that the severance agreement was not enforceable because it was not written in a manner calculated to be understood.
2. A waiver must specifically refer to rights or claims arising under the ADEA. EEOC regulations specifically state that an Older Workers Benefit Protection Act waiver must expressly spell out the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) by name.
3. A waiver must advise the employee in writing to consult an attorney before accepting the agreement.
Example: A release stating: “I have had reasonable and sufficient time and opportunity to consult with an independent legal representative of my own choosing before signing this Complete Release of All Claims,” did not comply with OWBPA
’s requirement that an individual be advised to consult with an attorney. Although the voluntary early retirement agreement advised employees to consult financial and tax advisors, to seek advice from local personnel representatives, and to attend retirement seminars, it said nothing about seeking independent legal advice prior to making the election to retire and accepting the agreement.4. A waiver must provide the employee with at least 21 days to consider the offer. The regulations clarify that the 21-day consideration period runs from the date of the employer’s final offer. If material changes to the final offer are made, the 21-day period starts over.
5. A waiver must give an employee seven days to revoke his or her signature. The seven-day revocation
period cannot be changed or waived by either party for any reason.
6. A waiver must not include rights and claims that may arise after the date on which the waiver is executed. This provision bars waiving rights regarding new acts of discrimination that occur after the date of signing, such as a claim that an employer retaliated against a former employee who filed a charge with the EEOC by giving an unfavorable reference to a prospective employer.
Example: An employee who received enhanced severance benefits in exchange for waiving her right to challenge her layoff
later filed suit. In finding the waiver valid, the court noted that because the waiver clearly stated that she was releasing any claims that she “may now have or have had,” it did not require her to waive future claims hat may arise after the waiver was signed.
7. A waiver must be supported by consideration in addition to that to which the employee already is entitled.
If a waiver of age claims fails to meet any of these seven requirements, it is invalid and unenforceable. In addition, an employer cannot attempt to “cure” a defective waiver by issuing a subsequent letter containing OWBPA-required information that was omitted from the original agreement.
So, as you can see, as a general matter, under federal law, your employer cannot require your immediate signature on a document if that document also includes language which says that you will not sue.
You may want to print off this page and share it with your employer if they don't believe you: http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/qanda_severance-agreements.html#IV
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