Can an employer offer a verbal contract of a raise (which was accepted) and then not pay it?

I was offered a promotion and 60% raise at my current company, which I accepted. I have been working the position for 5 months now. However shortly after the offer a raise freeze for the whole company went into effect. I was not immediately informed of this, but instead strung along for a while with “it’s in the works”. They have then said they’ve been working on pushing my raise through because it should have gone in before the freeze. Though hesitant to sue my current employer, I feel they breached a verbal contract which affected life decisions. Do I have any legal recourse?

Asked on July 1, 2009 under Employment Labor Law, Kentucky


B. B., Member, New Jersey Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

I don't think you can win any suit like this.  Even if there had been a verbal contract, a company-wide freeze was within the employer's rights, since a verbal contract isn't good enough to take you out of the "at will" doctrine.  The company didn't need a reason to not put through your raise, just as it wouldn't need a reason to let you go.  "Rocking the boat" is often a reason that doesn't offend a court, also.

Your only real recourse is to find a job at the same level of responsibility, with the pay that shold go with it, someplace else.  The new job title can go on your resume, and you have a perfectly understandable reason for wanting to leave.

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