A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from a friend. She was in a panic: her husband's boss told him he had the option of being bumped down to an intern or resigning. The intern job came with intern level pay and responsibility, of course. They placed a legal document in front of him and begrudgingly gave him 24 hours to sign it, or he would be fired.

Now, this took place in Switzerland, and my friends are also expats. I don't know much about Swiss employment law, but I do know this: any time someone wants you to sign a legal document without giving you enough time to review it and consult with an attorney, it's not in your favor and you should walk away. 

Now, this is scary, because their immigration status depends on his job and if he were to be fired, they would have to leave the country within three months. 

I advised, don't sign, don't resign, and call a lawyer immediately.

He hesitated until many of his co-workers reached out and said, "what in the heck?" He reached out to the union attorney, who took one look at the document and declared it patently illegal. 

To make a long story short, two weeks later, he's still employed, at full salary, and his immigration status is secure until the end of his contract.

Now, there was a ton of stress and a ton of back and forth and backroom deals, but it all came down to this: the original document violated numerous laws.

Now, Swiss employees all have contracts, which makes them different than American employees, who are almost always "at will" employees, meaning you can quit or be fired at any time. But that doesn't mean that every attempt at firing, demotion, or other negative career action will be legal.

Honest bosses, HR Departments, and company retained attorneys have confidence in the documents they ask you to sign. They have no problem with you consulting an attorney and are happy to give you adequate time to do so. Anytime someone says "you must sign now or else!" you can trust that the "or else!" is better than the act of signing the document.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't sign things like receipts saying you received a copy of the employee handbook (if you did) or that your boss informed you that you are receiving a formal warning. But, if they place a legal document in front of you, it's time to get a lawyer. And even if you can't afford a lawyer, you need to have time to review any documents before you sign. Honest people will allow that, regardless of the country you work in.

Published on: Feb 9, 2019
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