Language in a confidential severance agreement Tesla Inc. is using as part of the biggest job cut in its history is likely to deter dismissed employees from going public with worker safety concerns, according to employment-law experts.
A proposed severance agreement Tesla presented to one of the more than 3,000 workers dismissed last week required acknowledgment that the employee “had the opportunity to raise any safety concerns, safety complaints, or whistleblower activities against the company, and that if any safety concerns, safety complaints, or whistleblower activities were raised during your employment, they were addressed to your satisfaction.”
The document obtained and reviewed by Bloomberg News also barred the former worker from sharing “business-related” information; required that the ex-employee assist Tesla’s defense against claims; released any claims made against Tesla; and dictated that any disputes under the agreement will be handled in individual arbitration.
“I do think the agreement will chill valid employee complaints,” said Brishen Rogers, a law professor at Temple University. “A reasonable worker would just keep their mouth shut, rather than risk losing their severance pay.”
The document, which would provide the employee about two months of severance pay, includes a clause stating that it doesn’t “in any way limit or prohibit” the employee from cooperating with or filing a charge with a government agency. But the rest of the document makes it less likely that fired workers would actually speak up about issues like safety, or be taken seriously if they did, labor law experts say.
“The implication is, if you went to OSHA and you said, ‘Here’s something new I want to tell you about a safety concern at Tesla,’ and then OSHA asks the company to respond to that allegation, the company is going to say, ‘That employee told us that they raised everything,’” said Sharon Block, the executive director of Harvard University’s Labor and Worklife Program.
The language requiring workers to assist Tesla in legal disputes is also potentially problematic, said David Lopez, the incoming co-dean of Rutgers law school.
Elon Musk likes to represent himself as a messianic figure who will change the world.
I want no part of his vision.