I was laid off from Symantec as of last Friday. That in itself doesn’t bother me, as I’ve been planning for just such an event for many years. Aside from considerable savings and a low cost of living, I even picked Austin as a destination on escaping California in large part because of the ease of finding a new job here.
What does bother me is the severance agreement Symantec wanted me to sign, which contains the following clause:
9. Non disparagement. You agree that you will not, whether orally or in writing, make any disparaging statements or comments, either as fact or as opinion, about Symantec or its products and services, business, technologies, market position, agents, representatives, directors, officers, shareholders, attorneys, employees, vendors, affiliates, successors or assigns, or any person acting by, through, under or in concert with any of them.
This absurd and insulting clause is made even worse by this additional clause:
C. Non-Disclosure. You agree to keep the contents, terms and conditions of this Agreement confidential; provided, however that you may disclose this Agreement with your spouse, attorneys, and accountants, or pursuant to subpoena or court order. Any breach of this non-disclosure paragraph is a material breach of this Agreement.
If you don’t sign the agreement with this clause, you don’t get severance pay. If you do sign it, not only are you not allowed to make any disparaging statements (even factual ones) about a group so broad that it’s basically impossible to ever know if someone is in it (shareholders being the most glaring example), you can’t even talk about what you can’t talk about. Now, I have no problem refusing to sign something so deeply offensive and giving up my severance pay. In my case it’s (after tax) enough to live on for a year, which while not totally insignificant is still a fairly small fraction of my savings.
However, I’m well aware that I’m highly unusual when it comes to financial responsibility. The average American seeing this agreement will have no savings, a mountain of debt, lives in a house that he couldn’t afford, and drives a car he couldn’t afford. Such a person could be effectively extorted into signing just to survive while looking for a new job.
I did write to the HR department objecting to clause 9, and saying that I would be willing to sign the agreement only if it were removed, but they never bothered to reply.
Ironically, I wouldn’t have actually had anything particularly bad to say about Symantec even if I were so inclined if they’d left that clause out of their severance agreement. Even if I had wanted to, there would have been nothing I could say that would make Symantec look any worse than things they announced publicly themselves.