Can an employer suddenly refuse to honor a signed employment agreement? What are the repercussions?

I was given a agreement/contract in May 2016 that stated I
would be ‘given vacation time in lieu of pay for OT work
during tax season going forward’. Now, in March 2017, my
boss is realizing how much vacation that is because I also
negotiated for 2 weeks of paid vacation aside from that,
and claiming it was an ‘error’, is saying he won’t honor
that. In addition, he wants me to work OT 20 hrs/wk for the
next 3 weeks without any kind of compensation for that OT. I
don’t think I have any recourse except to go along with it
or quit.

Asked on March 25, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, Georgia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

1) If you have a signed written agreement, it is enforceable against your employer--it doesn't matter if the employer considers it to have been an "error": the law does not allow someone out of a contract simply because it was, in hindsight, a mistake. You could sue your employer to enforce the contract (e.g. for the value of the vacation days). That said, as set out below--
2) If you are an hourly employee, you must be paid overtime for working more than 40 hours per week; and you must be paid overtime even if you and your employer both wanted to or agreed that you'd get vacation days in lieue of overtime. Overtime for nonexempt employees--and essentially all hourly employees are nonexempt--is a legal requirement that may not be waived or given up.
Even if you are a salaried employee, you may still be eligible for overtime. You would only be exempt from overtime if you earn at least $23,600 (approximately) per year *and* your job duties and authority meet one of more of the tests or criteria for exemption (like the professional exemption, or administrative employee exemption), which can be found on the U.S. Department of Labor website. (Compare your job to the different exemptions.) If you don't earn enough of a salary and/or don't meet at least one of the exemptions, then even as a salaried employee, you are entitled to overtime--and again, even if you and the employer had contracted otherwise.
An ilegal contract--one that is against the law--is not enforceable. So if you are not exempt from ovetime, your "vacation for overtime" contract is not enforceable, because its terms are against the law. That's the bad news. The good news is, you are entitled to overtime and could file a complant with the state or federal department of labor (and/or file a lawsuit) for the back overtime you should have received as well as to make sure you get ovetime going forward.


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