Fine print in severance agreements should be carefully reviewed because it may restrict important rights. According to employment law experts, Tesla deterred terminated employees from revealing safety concerns with the public in its severance agreements.
The automaker proposed an agreement to its 3,000 workers that were let go in June. According to the agreement, employees would agree that they were afforded the opportunity to bring up any safety concerns or complaints or whistleblower activities during their employment. Additionally, the workers had to agree that Tesla satisfactorily addressed these issues if they were raised.
Under the agreement, workers could not share business-related information, had to assist Tesla with its defense, and released claims against the manufacturer. Binding arbitration would also resolve any disputes over the agreement. Violation of its terms could jeopardize employees' two months of severance pay, but the agreement does not restrict or prevent an employee from filing a charge or cooperating with a government agency.
It could, however, discourage workers from talking about safety issues. The agreement could also reduce employees' credibility because Tesla may claim that the employee agreed that they raised safety issues in this contract.
A safety director at Tesla also filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in June claiming that Tesla fired him because he complained about safety conditions and his refusal to participate in illegal activities. He complained that the manufacturer submitted false information on rate statistics to the public and state. Tesla denied these allegations and said he was fired because of bullying, attempted intimidation of co-workers and his inappropriate comments about women.
Employees should seek legal advice before entering any severance agreement. An attorney can help them seek fair terms.