Signing The Termination Letter & Release
Termination clauses are one of the most litigated sections of employment contracts and could make the whole agreement void if not written precisely. If you have just lost your job, do not sign the termination letter or release until an employment lawyer has vetted the documents properly for you. Any experienced lawyer will offer this solid advice because these documents are legally binding. Once you execute them, you sign away any further claims of damages against your employer. At the least, let your lawyer confirm that you have received all your entitlements.
During a recent case at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (HRTO) however, we had an opportunity to invalidate a signed release and the accompanying termination letter. Even the HRTO opined that this was a rare ruling, indeed.
Plaskitt v Aquatech Pump and Power Inc.
In 2015, our client Becki Ann Plaskitt, was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. As a result, she sustained multiple injuries, including trauma to her brain. Not only did the ongoing pain impact her cognitive functions with reduced ability to focus and concentrate, she also experienced fatigue, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and depression.
Ms. Plaskitt returned to work after a few months on a graduated work plan. Her employers accommodated her needs until July 21, 2017. That’s when they ended her employment, noting her disabilities left her incapable of performing the essential duties of her job. Furthermore, medical evidence confirmed that she would not return to working full-time hours, any time soon. Accordingly, they viewed their actions as practical and non-discriminatory.
They presented Ms. Plaskitt with a termination letter, offering eight weeks of salary and benefits continuation, in exchange for a signed release. She complied, signed the release and left the workplace, but wisely contacted us right away for counsel on her situation.
Invalidating a Signed Release
We sized up the situation and immediately responded to her employer, repudiating the release, alleging that this termination constituted a breach of her rights. And the HRTO agreed with us.
They reviewed many key facts. The most important one, without dispute, was her employers’ glaring omission to advise her of the right to seek independent legal advice before signing the release and accepting the terms of the termination letter. The documents made no mention of this, either. Her employers were abundantly aware of her disabilities and particularly, the limits of her cognitive abilities. It was our position that, at a minimum, they should have left the offer open on the table and given her time to process the situation and pursue it with legal guidance.
Furthermore, the HRTO paid due attention to the fact that Ms. Plaskitt had difficulty maintaining emotional control at the termination meeting. The wording of the termination letter and release lacked simplicity and clarity, compared to other similar documents. They reasonably concluded that Ms. Plaskitt did not understand what she was signing away.
They ruled that Ms. Plaskitt, as an individual with cognitive disabilities, was not given due process by her employer to pursue her legal options. Her termination letter and release were invalidated, leaving the terms of her termination wide open for negotiation.
Termination Letter & Release: Seek Legal Advice
Employers should always advise their terminated employees to seek independent legal advice before signing a release tied to a termination letter. If however, you signed a release without legal counsel, then this case proves it may not be the end of the line.
The Ontario Human Rights Code does not explicitly bar applications from proceeding after employees have signed a release and accepted the terms of a termination letter. But it is a rare occurrence, for sure. Contact us if you believe you signed your termination papers, prematurely and under duress. Our experienced lawyers will examine the facts, like we did for Ms. Plaskitt, to determine whether an abuse or neglect of process merits a legal hearing to nullify the terms of your executed agreement.
Lecker & Associates have exclusively represented employees of Ontario for over 35 years. Negotiating severance packages remains a cornerstone of our business.