The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently fined BlueLinx Holdings and Health Net, Inc. for including within severance agreements a provision designed to eliminate a former employee's right to recover whistleblower incentives. In what is generally considered a standard provision in severance agreements, the companies' agreements allowed for the former employees' participation in any government investigation but required a waiver of the right to recover any incentive payments that the law provides for whistleblowers. The SEC issued substantial fines to these companies for this waiver requirement. The SEC explained that the whistleblower incentive is a key part of the SEC's enforcement efforts and that any public company's attempt to eliminate or limit that incentive violates the law.
The SEC also found objectionable a provision found in many employers' severance agreements relating to keeping matters confidential. The SEC found objectionable a provision requiring that a former employee must inform the company's legal department before disclosing any information to a government investigator.
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