Can an employer hire you and then fire you/lay off?

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Can an employer hire you and then fire you/lay off?

I was called by the manager because she wanted and stated she wanted to immediately hire me. I quit my job to come there because the required distance was closed and I was being offered more pay. So I did a few training shifts as told by manager. Then was told she would be putting me on the schedule that week. Then when I called about why I wasn’t told when would come back she informed me the person I was replacing doesn’t want to give up her hours but she would find me some hours at her other locations. About 4 days went by no call. So I called and then she informed me that now she has no hours to offer me. And now I have no job and can’t pay my bills because of this. What can I do?

Asked on August 2, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Michigan

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Generally, yes, an employer can hire you, then shortly after, terminate you: employment in this country is "employment at will" (unless you have a written employment contract guarantying or protecting your employment), so an employee may be terminated at any time, for any reason.
There is a legal theory which *might* help you, though you need to be warned: it is not always a well-received theory by the courts, since what it does is effectively find contractual-like protection when there is no contract, and that's not something the courts like to do. Therefore, using it is an uphill battle. 
The theory is called "promissory estoppel." IF someone makes you a promise in order to get you to do something, and to do that thing, you have to do something significantly to your detriment (like quitting an existing job), and the person making the promise knows you have to do that detrimental thing (they know you'd have to quit a job) but despite knowing that, they still make the promise (of a job), you can sometimes hold them to that promise, particularly in a case where they never really honored their promise at all (you just had training shifts; if you'd worked for a few months, clearly they could change their mind and terminate you if circumstances change or you are not working out). Again, this is not an often-winning strategy, since holding an employer to a promise without a contract is go against "employment at will" and effectively binds someone without a contract, which are things courts don't like to do; but bringing a legal action based on promissory estoppel at least gives you a chance at getting some compensation.


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