Thank you for your reply.
I must be candid in telling you that the facts you describe would not typically give rise to any legal causes of action against your employer. The reason is because employment in all states but Montana is "at will
" absent an express agreement to the contrary. At will employment can be terminated for any reason not amounting to discrimination
on the basis of a legally protected trait (race, religion, gender, etc.) or retaliation
for engaging in certain forms of legally protected conduct (filing a wage
claim, taking FMLA
leave, etc.). It doesn't matter whether the basis for termination is fair, reasonable or even true.
Thus, it is not illegal to terminate your employment because new management wants to replace you with someone they already know. It's a purely political and unfair decision, but for the reasons noted above it is not illegal to make decisions based on company politics even if such decisions are unfair. It also would not matter from a legal standpoint how long you have been employed. Certainly it matters from the standpoint of "what's right" as you are a long term dedicated employee and should not be replaced as though you are a cog in the wheel, but again, it is not illegal.
It also would not be illegal to terminate you while you are on disbility leave. It might be illegal if you could prove that you were terminated BECAUSE you are on disability leave, but it wouldn't seem that you could prove that here since there is evidence that your termination was already in the works before you ever went on leave. Obviously, your employer's motivation for letting you go couldn't be your medical status if they made the decision to let you go before they were aware of your medical status.
Now, as to your specific questions, being on leave would not hurt an employee's legal claims against the company, but this question assumes there is a legal claim to begin with, and that would not seem to be the case based on what you have described.
As for your second question, you are never under any obligation to sign paperwork just because it has been given to you by your employer. Anything that you are asked to sign should be carefully reviewed and signed knowing that it is a voluntary choice to sign that you are making.
It may be, given your long duration of employment, that you are offered a severance package. It is a near certainty that if you are offered severance it will be conditioned on you signing a waiver of your legal right to sue. This is common and the main reason why employers offer severance. The employee may not have a legal claim, but obtaining the waiver provides closure for the employer and ensures that they will not have to defend against a lawsuit, meritorious or not.
Typically, whether to sign a severance agreement or not depends on the value of the legal claims that the employee is giving up. Here, for the reasons noted above, it would seem that there are probably no legal claims to bring, and thus any amount of severance is probably better than the alternative, which is a losing lawsuit. However, you can still try to negotiate. A standard method for calculating severance is 1 week for every year of service. Perhaps that can be your benchmark.
I hope that you find this information helpful and am genuinely sorry if it is not entirely what you were hoping to hear. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding the above and I will be more than happy to assist you further.
If you do not require any further assistance, please be so kind as to provide a positive rating of my service so that I may receive credit for assisting you. Very best wishes moving forward.