5 Things You Should Know About Your Severance Agreement in Fairfax County, Virginia

Severance Agreement
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Fairfax County is a popular location for many employers, including the federal government and numerous large corporations. With an economy driven by specialized professional services and technology, it’s no wonder that severance agreements are a common part of many workers’ professional lives in this region.

In essence, these agreements are straightforward. In exchange for the employee receiving benefits such as severance pay, the employer gets something in return. That may be an employee’s promise not to reveal company secrets, not to steal customers or business, and/or not to sue the employer.

As an employee, the tricky part is deciding whether the benefits you will receive in a severance package fully compensate for the rights you’ll forgo. Answering that question depends on many factors, including the employment laws that you and your former employer are subject to. If you’re in Fairfax County, below are several things to be specifically aware of before signing a severance agreement.

1. Your Legal Rights Are Equal to Those of Most Other Virginia Employees

Generally speaking, the more localized an anti-discrimination law is, the more protections it provides. This isn’t quite the case for workers in Fairfax County. Like many other counties and municipalities surrounding Washington, D.C., Fairfax County has its own anti-discrimination law, codified as the Fairfax County Human Rights Ordinance (HRO).

But unlike surrounding localities, such as Arlington County and Alexandria, the Fairfax County HRO’s employment discrimination protections do not extend beyond what federal or Virginia laws already provide. For example, Fairfax County workers subject to discrimination based on their sexual orientation are not a protected class under the Fairfax County HRO.

2. Your Coverage Under the Fairfax County HRO Includes Smaller Employers

Although the Fairfax County HRO doesn’t include rights beyond Virginia’s anti-discrimination law (the Virginia Human Rights Act) or most federal anti-discrimination laws, it does apply to more employers. For instance, the Virginia Human Rights Act only applies to employers with at least six employees. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), a major federal law protecting workers from employment discrimination, only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. In contrast, the Fairfax County HRO applies to any employer with just four or more employees.

3. You Can Go Directly to Court to Sue Your Employer

Usually, employees who want to bring a lawsuit for employment discrimination under Title VII or another federal law must first exhaust their administrative remedies. This process includes filing a complaint (also called a charge) with the appropriate government agency that enforces employment anti-discrimination laws. In most cases, this is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Even when an employee knows that the EEOC will be unable to resolve the problem, the employee must still go through the administrative process. Only after it’s complete can the employee file a lawsuit.

The Fairfax County HRO has its own administrative process for resolving employment discrimination issues. However, unlike federal law, this administrative process is not mandatory; Fairfax County employees can, if they choose, go directly to court and sue for Fairfax County HRO violations.

This direct route typically isn’t the best legal strategy, but in certain situations, it can achieve an employee’s desired results more quickly.

4. You Can Get Monetary Damages Without Going to Court

severance agreementMost employees actually want to avoid court, as it is very unpredictable and slow. But if you’re looking for monetary damages without going to court, the Fairfax County HRO provides this option.

After an employee submits a complaint to the Fairfax Office of Human Rights, the Commission will conduct an investigation and attempt a conciliation process between the employee and employer to resolve the conflict. If that doesn’t work, a public hearing is held in which the Commission can take necessary actions to effectuate the purpose of the Fairfax County HRO. These actions can include making the employer pay damages to the employee.

This isn’t the most common avenue of relief; most employees who are seeking monetary damages will be better off suing in court. But this possibility exists, providing another legal option for employees who have been subject to unlawful discrimination. The more legal options available to you as an employee, the more you can potentially demand in a severance agreement.

5. You Have More Time to Bring a Complaint

When you as an employee decide to file a formal complaint, you must do so within a specific period of time after the alleged misconduct has occurred. For example, if you’re complaining to the EEOC about employment discrimination, you usually have either 180 or 300 days to file that charge.

However, if you instead bring that complaint under the Fairfax County HRO, you have one year in which to do so. This may only be an additional 65 days, but it can keep your threat of legal action alive that much longer.

Also, a severance agreement’s general release or waiver usually only releases the employer from having to pay the employee any monetary damages arising out of a legal action. This leaves open the possibility of the employee filing a complaint with an enforcement agency, such as the EEOC, Virginia’s Division of Human Rights, or the Fairfax Office of Human Rights.

While you may not be able to collect monetary damages based on a complaint you filed after signing a severance agreement, your complaint can still cause problems for your former employer. This possibility gives your employer more incentive to make you happy with the terms of your severance agreement.

For More Information

Do you still have questions about severance agreements? Need help applying this information to your own severance agreement? Please feel free to contact us to discuss your specific situation with an experienced Fairfax County employment attorney.