Valuing Severance or Wage Rights? Assumptions and Do-It-Yourself-Research Are Not Your Friend

This post is for those evaluating the financial worth of an employment-law related issue. For example, maybe you are reviewing a severance agreement that offers $X, or your employer is offering you a partial payment of $Y toward unpaid wages, e.g. commissions or bonus.

In such financial-evaluation situations, some employees rely on information from the employer that is inaccurate and serves the employer’s financial interests. So they accept the employer’s say-so as the final word, and sign off on what the employer wants without further exploration.

More often, employees will rely on their own assumptions and/or their own internet research, and try to identify a fair value on their own.

Please know this: your own assumptions and research are not your friend. You are far more likely to identify the wrong answers than the right ones.

Before you take action (e.g. before you negotiate an unpaid wage payment or sign a severance agreement) based on  your own assumptions or research, consider talking to an employee rights attorney first. Many of us offer a free initial phone call for such matters.

If an experienced employee rights attorney reviews an employment-valuation scenario, or starts a research project, he or she has the following advantages that you will not:

– He or she will have at least three years of law school training on the structure of the legal system and legal research methodologies, e.g. knowing the general nature and hierarchy of laws, knowing which research resources are valid and which ones aren’t, etc.

– He or she will have years of work experience with MANY employment laws that may be involved with your situation, AND with those laws as CARRIED OUT in the real world, i.e. “law in action”. For example, many employees who do their own legal research focus on one or two areas of law, when in fact a long list of laws potentially apply. Further, even if you somehow identified the correct (and best) laws or legal forums, how those laws and forums operate in the real world would be outside your experience and knowledge base. For instance, my law school training– and all the research resources I had– did next to nothing to train me for negotiating with an employer or dealing with a particular court, agency or judge. Another example: if straight out of law school I had read a particular government agency’s website that listed all the applicable legal standards and all the good things an employee could win from a legal claim, I wouldn’t have guessed that that same agency dismisses over 75% of employees’ complaints of particular types. Simply put, experience teaches many valuable things that reading a website (even an accurate one) does not.

Only through experience did I learn the approaches that worked and those that didn’t.  Whatever laws or approaches your are contemplating have been explored before. Before your put your wheels to the road, so to speak, there is great value in talking to someone who has taken that path (and many related paths) already.  So before you take action with an employer that is based on your own assumptions or research, please consider contacting an employee rights attorney and letting that person know your situation and your thoughts. The odds are very high the attorney would mention different considerations, and would recommend a different course of action, than those you are contemplating.



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