In turnabout, SunTrust removes contentious severance clause

Bank to eliminate continuing cooperation requirement for laid-off workers

A controversial severance agreement clause by SunTrust Banks requiring laid-off employees to be available to help without pay, has been removed, the bank said today.

SunTrust is laying off approximately 100 IT employees as it shifts their duties to IT contractors. The employees have been training overseas workers to take their jobs.

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 of 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 full clause is published here.

The bank, in a statement released late Friday morning, said it had a change of heart.

"We understand that a clause in our severance agreement was misconstrued versus its use in actual practice, and therefore, we have removed it," said a bank spokesman in an emailed statement.

SunTrust plans to remove the clause from the severance packages it has already issued.

Continuing cooperation clauses are very common in severance agreements given to high-level executives, but not midlevel or technical workers, according to lawyers. Those agreements can include additional payments.

According to SunTrust workers, the bank's standard severance agreement amounts to two weeks of pay per year of employment.

There was a particularly strong reaction on social media to the clause, with the overwhelming majority of commenters critical of it. Many said they saw the clause as ill-advised, particularly if the bank does indeed need the help of former workers.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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