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In Turnabout, SunTrust Removes Contentious Severance Clause (computerworld.com) 92

dcblogs writes: SunTrust has removed a controversial severance clause requiring laid-off employees to be 'reasonably available' to help without pay during the two years after their employment ends, the bank said today. The severance agreements received by employees included a "continuing cooperation" clause requiring each worker "to make myself reasonably available to SunTrust regarding matters in which I have been involved in the course my employment with SunTrust and/or about which I have knowledge as a result of my employment with SunTrust." Bank IT employees believed this broadly worded clause was essentially an on-call provision, requiring them to provide technical help as needed without additional pay. The bank disputed that interpretation, and said the intent was to limit such help to legal matters. The bank, in a statement released late Friday morning, had a change of heart, and said it would be removed from the severance agreements.
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In Turnabout, SunTrust Removes Contentious Severance Clause

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  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @04:12PM (#50789981)
    a sanity clause? it's Friday, i'm done.
  • Good on them for showing some sense. I mean, I'm still canceling my SunTrust mortgage next week, but now it's just because I'm selling my house, and not because I find their policies personally reprehensible. Before it was both a coincidence of timing AND a sense of disgust. I'm happy to drop the disgust.

    • Re:Good on them (Score:5, Interesting)

      by LVSlushdat ( 854194 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @04:56PM (#50790309)

      You shouldn't cancel your disgust because they backpedeled on this ONLY after the internet "took them to the woodshed". The fact that they came up with such an insane clause in their severance IN THE FIRST PLACE wouldn't do a thing to remove *my* disgust with them. I don't live in an area where they have branches, so I really couldn't close any accounts I might have with them, but as for my disgust, its completely up and running quite well, thank you very much... God Damn Fucking banks... So glad *my* money has been in credit unions for over 30 years...

      • So you are basically saying that since they started this policy, they should have followed it all the way through?

      • I wonder if those that signed the agreement already are being offered an updated one to sign.

    • Good on them for showing some sense. I mean, I'm still canceling my SunTrust mortgage next week, but now it's just because I'm selling my house, and not because I find their policies personally reprehensible. Before it was both a coincidence of timing AND a sense of disgust. I'm happy to drop the disgust.

      Banksters: So, you want out of your mortgage by way of selling your house? Please watch these JFK assassination tapes and let us know if you still feel the same way about that... By the way, we no longer feel that unpaid on call availability of former employee's should be under any kind of traceable written contract, so we will opt for a verbal self conducted and enforced arbitration agreement. "Entirely too many people that might not agree with our thinking running around lose in the world anyway"...

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      They didn't show any sense. They didn't cancel it for the right reasons. They canceled it because they saw that they would lose in court, as the contract was written, the clause was indentured servitude (considered Slavery in US law). I'll gladly pay you now, in the form of a steamer journey, so long as you make yourself available for 2 years after working for me. Nope, thrown out with Slavery. I got bashed in the first article when I pointed out that the contract was slavery, thus the employee could t
  • by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @04:22PM (#50790051) Homepage

    If a party to a contract puts language into a contract, the only safe assumption you can make is that said party wants to some day be able to do that thing.

    The only appropriate response to "oh, we'd never actually do that" is "then remove it."

    • If a party to a contract puts language into a contract, the only safe assumption you can make is that said party wants to some day be able to do that thing.

      Thank you. I'm astonished at the number of people who don't understand that. And yes, if you really don't intend to do it, take it out. Won't take it out? Then you're either lying, or powerless to make your company not do that thing and have no business representing that your company won't.

    • by cdrudge ( 68377 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @05:03PM (#50790355) Homepage

      Exactly. I started employment with a new web/software development company several years ago. After I had been there over a year and they had grown some, I was told I needed to sign a non-compete agreement. I forget the exact wording, but it was to the effect of any related field of employment within the area would be prohibited for an extended period of time. It was about that vague.

      We were primarily a web development company, but did general purpose development too for corporations, non-profits, agencies...you name it. Prohibiting me from "competing" with them would basically rule out any type of development work in the area. Since that had been my entire career up to that point, I refused to sign.

      Eventually the owner/my boss demanded why I wouldn't sign it. I told him that it was way too overly broad and while I was very confident that it wasn't legally enforceable on the grounds that I have a right to earn a living, I rather just not sign it to remove all ambiguity. He said that he was very hurt that I would think that he (and his wife who co-owned the company) would attempt to use it that way. I simply pointed out that it didn't matter how I thought they would use it, all that mattered was how they could use it.

      It turned out that they had copied it from some website and never ran it by an actual lawyer. Once they did that and the lawyer said that it was a worthless agreement, it was never mentioned again.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 23, 2015 @05:26PM (#50790507)

        My wife and I are very hurt you'd tell this story to everyone on Slashdot. We wanted nothing but the best for you Charlie.

      • I was also required to sign a non-compete clause as part of the employment paperwork when I joined a new company. When I read it, I asked the HR person about it, and the response was "Oh, that's just legal boilerplate stuff. We would never enforce that clause." Foolishly, I signed it anyhow, and fortunately, nothing came of it of course. I was younger and less experienced, plus unemployed and nearly out of money. It's harder to protest in that situation, but as I'm a bit older and hopefully a bit wiser

        • by johanw ( 1001493 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @07:09PM (#50791031)

          Some company tried to enforce that clause in The Netherlands after THEY fired someone. When it came to court, the judge ordered that they could enforce it, but then they had to pay the former employee full salary for doing nothing at home because it would prevent him from getting a job. Suddenly the clause was dropped...

          • by don.g ( 6394 )

            I've had advice here (New Zealand) that the more egregious the non-compete clause, the better, as if it went to employment court the clause would be struck out entirely. After that I stopped complaining about stupid employment contracts.

            • In Tennessee, United States the judge will modify the agreement if he or she deems it overly broad. Basically, the contract can say you can't work anywhere for the rest of your life, and the judge will knock that down to anywhere in (overly broad category) for two years. They never just toss it out.

              Technically, the company has to give you something if they want you to sign it after you've joined, but the number TN judges like is at least $50. So here, two years of not being able to work in your professio

            • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

              But do you really want to take it to court, along with the costs that entails, in order to find out that you were right all along? Or would you rather just settle it upfront and not have to worry about it at all?

          • Some company tried to enforce that clause in The Netherlands after THEY fired someone. When it came to court, the judge ordered that they could enforce it, but then they had to pay the former employee full salary for doing nothing at home because it would prevent him from getting a job. Suddenly the clause was dropped...

            That has always been the case in Germany. The result is that you have a clause that gives them the right to disallow you from working for a competitor - so they only need to pay if you find a new job and they tell you not to take it.

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          Hmm... My company had an NDA. I can't imagine that any of my employees would have even signed a non-compete. I signed one when I sold but the price was worth it and they were purchasing all the IP, patents and all, with it so I'd have either had to start anew or go work for someone else in the field and neither was appealing. I can understand why someone would sign one, in your shoes, but I'm not sure they should even be legal in that type of situation. In my case, I am okay with it. I'm not sure how I feel

          • To be honest, I suspect it was more along the lines of "we copied this boilerplate combination NDA/noncompete agreement from somewhere else" sort of deal, rather than any sort of purposeful intent by the company. In case you're wondering, I'm a videogame programmer. There are generally no critical trade secrets for me to protect, other than what a normal NDA would typically cover.

            In your case, it sounded like a non-compete made sense. For typically employees like me at the time, they generally don't.

    • by sconeu ( 64226 )

      As Darl McBride said, "Contracts are what you use against people that you have a relationship with."

    • I'm wondering about the intelligence of a FINANCIAL institution that thinks getting advice from *former* employees would be a good idea...

      "Yeah (ex)boss, you should update the data...here's a script for you to run"
  • For free? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MrLogic17 ( 233498 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @04:25PM (#50790081) Journal

    I'm happy to be available to a previous employer - at my standard consulting rate. They can pay the going rate, just like everyone else.

    The notion that I should be available to work for free, after leaving, for 2 years? Insane.

    • The notion that I should be available to work for free, after leaving, for 2 years? Insane.

      I think at that point, I'd totally destroy anything I touched, you know, 'accidentally'...

      "oops? Well, it's been awhile since I left, and to be honest, you get what you pay for. See ya."

      • Re:For free? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <.slashdot. .at. .worf.net.> on Friday October 23, 2015 @05:47PM (#50790617)

        I think at that point, I'd totally destroy anything I touched, you know, 'accidentally'...

        "oops? Well, it's been awhile since I left, and to be honest, you get what you pay for. See ya."

        I think you alluded to, but not quite described the REAL reason this clause was dropped.

        Not because you accidentally dropped the customer accounts table, but liability. Imagine the bank goes down for a couple of days because of a systems failure. Some people will be upset, and may hire lawyers to sniff around. You think those lawyers will let the fact that non-employees are accessing the bank's systems go unchallenged? For all the lawyers know, they're going to run with the fact that the bank used non-cleared employees who may have caused the issue to worsen. Instead of the bank going down for the day, the bank called in non-employees who had full access to sensitive data, and who very well could've made the problem worse - instead of being able to fix it in a few hours, the non-employees made the bank go down for a couple of days.

        I'd say the lawyers would have a field day.

    • The notion that I should be available to work for free, after leaving, for 2 years? Insane.

      What they gonna do? Fire you?

  • by Stolpskott ( 2422670 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @04:34PM (#50790155)

    I had a similar clause in my severance contract at a previous employer (only 6 months, though), and started getting calls frequently because the guy to whom I handed over decided to quit after a row with my old boss.
    I had covered myself by notifying the new employer of the clause during interviews, but suddenly getting 4 or 5 calls a day that took up 1-2 hours of the working day was a problem and as the new guy on the team, I did not have a huge amount of good-will with my team to be able to "slack off" from the team's projects.
    The old employer also had a vested interest. Knowing the way my old manager's mind worked, he would have had no problem with making calls to the point where the new employer terminated my contract because of it, so that he could try to rehire me.
    My new boss got his legal team talking to the old company, and when the possibility of either legal action or invoicing for my time came up, the call volume dropped to near zero - 2 calls in 3 months, if I recall correctly.
    The project they were calling about was well documented, thanks to me and a detail-oriented intern who had been working with me for a couple of months, but these clauses still leave an ex-employee on the hook for a lot of potential problems if they are vaguely worded.

    • by jandrese ( 485 ) <kensama@vt.edu> on Friday October 23, 2015 @05:00PM (#50790327) Homepage Journal
      Why not simply stop answering their calls? What are they going to do? Double fire you? I'd like to see them take you to court over not providing work for free.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        They would stop paying severance and/or ask for it back.

      • They could demand the severance money back (depending - some state laws would even prohibit that as many of them --such as Oregon-- require that employees laid off w/ less than 60-90 days notice receive severance pay based on years of service/seniority, and have other laws prohibiting any recovery of severance pay unless very specific conditions are met.)

        In TFA's case, the phrase "to make myself reasonably available" is there, which means (to me), that "reasonably" would also mean they would pay a reasonabl

        • In TFA's case, the phrase "to make myself reasonably available" is there, which means (to me), that "reasonably" would also mean they would pay a reasonable consultancy fee for the time, and no court would entertain any argument stating otherwise.

          That's a good point. I don't think any court would consider "working for free" to be reasonable.

      • As others have said, stopping the payment of severance is one avenue, although in my case as in some others there was a clause that if I find another job within the severance period, the remainder of the severance is paid as a lump sum (or I have seen in some cases that a proportion of the severance is paid), with the previous employer reserving the right to claw back/reclaim the money paid through the severance package if the deal is broken - that reclaim can go through civil courts in some cases, incurrin

  • by mhkohne ( 3854 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @04:35PM (#50790171) Homepage

    Didn't actually intend anything nefarious. Just the usual over-reaching language by a lawyer who doesn't really do anything that matters.

    You'd think that after all these bad-pr-because-our-lawyers-need-muzzles incidents, companies would hire someone to keep an eye on the lawyers. The amount of time, effort (and therefore money) they spend cleaning up these messes isn't small.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The new article seems to imply that the severance package for the workers is the "standard severance agreement amount[ing] to two weeks of pay per year of employment."

    If this is the severance package being offered the workers, it is an utter outrage to even consider putting in the clause that they would be required to assist the company, without additional compensation, for two years after their employment with the company is terminated. For better companies, two weeks per year of service is a very typical

    • There are other options. When someone needs help, you can always offer them help.

      Give them useful advice, say, "Oh, you can't find the bug? Just delete file X and it should fix itself. I remember seeing bugs in there. Call me back if you want more useful advice."

      Always give them useful advice, even if you hate them.
    • Even with the amended terms, I would quit immediately

      If you're about to be laid off, why would you quit? Don't you want your unemployment insurance to kick in?

  • by crackspackle ( 759472 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @05:02PM (#50790339)
    Contracts are frequently thrown out entirely when they contain unconscionable [wikipedia.org] provisions. Having it there might have been better for the employees laid off.
  • Similar situation... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by slasher999 ( 513533 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @05:17PM (#50790459)

    I was fired by an employer with a long track record of constantly calling former employees about matters they were involved in. Fortunately at the time I had the sense to not give this employer my home number but a number than rang in my home office only. Once terminated I simply unplugged that phone for a couple of months. I was available, they just couldn't reach me. At the time cell phones were around, but not to the extent they are today.

  • Directly sabotaging anything is illegal, but if you coerce me into two years of free consulting because you outsourced my job, the advice may not be the best, you know? There is going to be negative value in this.

    Yes, I'm assuming their stated intent is just another PR lie from a terrible corporation.

  • How about NOT laying off your US IT workforce, and how about NOT outsourcing this work?

    How about hiring people within our country first and only hiring abroad if you cannot find local talent?

    This sort of thing is going to destroy our country if it keeps up. We really need some regulation in this area that makes it unprofitable to outsource IT to other countries.

    • by Wolfrider ( 856 )

      --Amen to that. The only thing is, bringing about that sea change is going to take an awful lot of time/effort/money. I agree with your sentiment, but someone actually needs to start an initiative to get that off the ground...

      / at least we know it would have popular support here ;-)

  • ""to make myself reasonably available" means for me: not available unless they pay me as a contractor whatever I ask. For $10,000 / hour I will be available for consultancy work.

    • Meh, I'd take what my company currently charges for me time (which is only something like a quarter that much per *day*, depending on the job). Of course, I would only be *available* if said current company didn't already have me on job (which they pay me a salary for, regardless of whether I'm on a job that particular week) so it would make a lot more sense for the previous employer to just hire my company and request me in particular, but not everybody works for a consulting agency. Also, "sense" seems to

  • But the real solution should attack the real problem - lawyers that have huge incentive to over-reach in contracts but no incentive to limit their reach.

    I can see several practical solutions:

    Proposed Law 1)Any contract found to have an over-reached term means that the contract writer is required to pay all legal costs - even if they win all legal issue.

    Proposed Law 2) All un-negotiated contracts (versus one where both sides paid for lawyers of their choice) are to be judged by the laws of the state of r

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As defined by whom?

    My definition is VERY different from the ST corporate one, I'm certain, especially after being replaced by low-cost-foreign-workers who I was required to train.

    There are workers in my area impacted by this. They didn't think ST was going to call them-ever. If a 15 minute call could help them out, fine. That was their thinking.

    It was a dick move. We've all seen non-compete agreements. I've simply refused to sign and the matter disappeared most of the time. Nobody tracks that too much.

    • Once I signed "John Doe" throughout the entire paperwork. Nobody noticed.

      Careful. Signed is signed. It is the fact that you sign that makes it a contract, not the fact that you sign with your real name.

      If you sign with a false name in order that you cannot be found if the other side tries to enforce the contract because they don't know who you are, that could be fraud. Obviously that wouldn't be the case here because they know who you are. But if you lied and claimed you didn't sign because it isn't your name, that would e fraud.

  • ...isn't the severance package or the B.S. clause about availability. The problem is that they laid off their U.S. staffers and replaced them with outsourced IT from India. The severance clause was just the peanut chunks atop the turd sandwich, and the bank isn't doing anything about that.
  • I don't mind that clause at all. I would have asked my next employer to put into the employment contract that I am not allowed to work for anyone else while employed, either for free or for payment, except that on request they would allow me to work for Suntrust, as long as Suntrust pays my employer $2,000 per day.

    I'd say that is quite reasonable.

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