Q. Can you tell me if there’s a law that says a 45-day waiting period must exist from the time employees are told they’ll be laid off until they receive the severance payment? Supposedly, this is called a cooling-off period. Is this a federal law? —T.M., Pennsylvania
A. The answer isn’t that simple. Here’s the deal: Under most severance agreements, employees being terminated receive severance pay in exchange for waiving employment-related claims. Waivers are legally valid only if they are “knowing and voluntary.” That usually means the employee signing the wavier must be given a reasonable period of time to review the severance agreement.
When you ask employees to waive age-based claims, the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) says your waivers must include special criteria. For example, when employees are 40 or older, their waiver of age claims will be valid only if they’re given at least 21 days to consider the waiver (or at least 45 days in connection with a group termination).
Also, OWBPA requires you to advise employees in writing to consult an attorney prior to signing the waiver. Plus, you must give employees a seven-day window to revoke the waiver after it’s signed. For more on age-bias waivers, go to the EEOC site: www.eeoc.gov/types/age.html.
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