Friday, February 2, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, February 2, 2001 rethinks severance terms

Associated Press

SEATTLE — Laid-off hourly workers at Inc.’s Seattle customer service center will now be able to receive extra severance benefits without signing an agreement prohibiting them from speaking ill of the company.

The Seattle-based company had earlier told the laid-off workers they would each receive an extra six weeks’ pay and $500 in cash if they signed an agreement that included a promise not to make derogatory comments about

Amazon said yesterday it is still asking hourly employees to sign the agreement to receive the extra benefits, but told workers they can delete that particular clause. Employees that do not sign the agreement will receive only the standard two weeks’ pay.

The remainder of the agreement covers confidentiality, noncompetition and other legal issues. Amazon contends the agreement, including the nondisparagement clause, is standard for all laid-off employees.

But some labor experts questioned that assessment.

Steve Frank, a lawyer with Frank, Rosen, Freed, Roberts in Seattle who specializes in employment issues, called Amazon’s move a public relations misstep. He said while it’s common to ask high-level employees to sign separation agreements, it’s unusual for hourly workers or workers without specialized knowledge to be asked to sign such paperwork.

"I bet you they regret what they did, asking (employees) to sign a nondisparagement clause in exchange for money," he said.

On Tuesday, Amazon announced that it would lay off 1,300 workers, or 15 percent of its work force. Along with the layoffs, Amazon said it would close a distribution center in McDonough, Ga., and the Seattle customer service center.

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