“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
― Albert Einstein
Releases in severance agreement must be comprehensive. Although there are certain claims that cannot be released by law (e.g., claims for unemployment compensation benefits, claims based on future events, etc.), all other claims or potential claims generally should be released in exchange for severance or other benefits.
Occasionally, we see draft release language in severance agreements that purport to have an executive release all claims that the executive has or may have had starting “from the beginning of time” until the date the release agreement is finalized by the executive’s signature. Setting aside the fact that no civil statute of limitations in the nation currently permits claims going back more than 15 years, asking an executive to release claims from present day dating back to the moment of the “big bang” smacks of overkill.
It is this type of drafting that makes it difficult for businesspeople to take lawyers seriously and seems to prove Einstein’s point. We are aware of no reported decisions in the employment context that have recognized as viable claims arising prior to the Declaration of Independence, the Renaissance, or the reign of Augustus Caesar. A simple release of “all claims, past and present, arising at any time before the date the releasor signs the agreement” is as comprehensive as necessary.