Severance Pay: White Collar Hush Money

Severance pay is a beautiful thing when you need it, but it can have a dark side.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its essential shutdown of our economy, like millions of others, I was laid off. In a single instant, my world was rocked to its core. Job prospects were dismal and the outlook was grim. 

In America, we live in a society where money talks. As I sit here, I struggle to think of a thing that money can’t buy me except for love. Some people claim that money can’t buy happiness.

Those people have never been poor.

Money can buy you comfort, stability, and peace of mind — all driving factors to one’s happiness. 

In a capitalist society, money can bring you both pleasure and despair. It is the basis by which we live and die. Because of this, even in the land of the free, individuals often find themselves powerless against, and at the mercy of, large companies with unlimited resources.

After being laid off, I found myself vulnerable in an atmosphere of uncertainty. My options being limited, I felt I had no other choice, but to accept severance pay. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that I am privileged and lucky to have this option in the first place. When you grow up poor, that perspective never leaves you. 

The problem with severance packages is that they often strip you of the right to tell your story, the right to be truthful and transparent, and, thereby, the ability to raise awareness of injustices in the workplace. 

As I sift through the nine pages of legal jargon contained within my severance agreement, I notice clauses like:

This general release of claims includes, without limitation, any and all claims:
1.) of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, or wrongful termination;

You also agree that you will not at any time make any disparaging or derogatory statements concerning the Company or its business, products and services.

Some of you may be wondering how this is legal. While the First Amendment of the Constitution grants us the right to free speech, its explicit purpose is to protect citizens from the power of government. This is apparent in the first five words:

Congress shall make no law

According to Brittany Scott, who wrote Waiving Goodbye to First Amendment Protections: First Amendment Waiver by Contract, many citizens see their Constitutional rights has inviolable. However, many Circuit Courts have permitted the waiver of First Amendment rights by contract.

While severance pay may be a relief for those who need it to support their family, it comes at the cost of freedom. Hush money is dirty business. It’s a way for individuals and companies to silence those who have a story to tell and who wield less power. Workplace discrimination runs rampant, but if it’s not written down and explicitly stated, it’s hard to prove. 

Hush Money

This is why sharing our stories is so important. The #metoo movement showed the world how silent we have been about being violated. It gave us a chance to bring about change, to right some wrongs, and to stand together in unity. It showed us the power of sharing our stories.

As a woman in tech, there’s no lack of men finding ways to silence me, but shame on them for underestimating the fight within me. 

Money talks, as do I.