Can I sue of an employer never paid me and laid me off after only 2 weeks?

I was offered a job. I received a job offer letter, a welcome letter and a W4 form which I sent in. The job start date was to have been the first of this month. I got the offer on the 1st of last month and my yearly income was to be $50,000. I worked from home the 2 weeks prior to the start date which consisted of compiling a list of office equipment needed and the overall cost. My employer stated that he would pay me $1500. The day I was supposed to get paid, he got stuck in traffic and couldn’t make it. The days following he was in Atlantic City and a few days after he was in the hospital and says he’s retiring so I have no job. He said he was sending me $5000 for the month I wasted turning down other job offers and spending saved money on rent and items needed for my son thinking I had a full-time position and money would soon be coming in. Today I texted him an email expressing my frustration and he said he was in the hospital with a tube down his throat and for me to take care. Can I sue?

Asked on April 13, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, New York


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

As for your termination, unless you had an employment contract or union agreement to the contrary your employment was "at will". This means that you could have been fired for any reason or no reason at all, with or without notice. Bottom line, in most work relationships, an employer can set the conditions of the workplace much a sit sees fit (absent some form of legaly actionable discrimination). As for the wages that were earned but not paid, you can sue your ex-employer in small claims court (so long as you have proof of your claim) or file a wage complaint with your state department of labor.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Unless you had not just an offer letter but an actual written employment contract for a specific or definite term (e.g. a one-year contract), which contract was violated by laying you off), you cannot sue him for laying you off: when there is no written contract to the contrary, all employment is "employment at will" which means, among other things, that you could be terminated or laid off at any time, for any reason, without recourse.
You could sue for any work you actually did but were not paid for, at the rate you should have been earning (e.g. if being paid $52k per year, or $1,000/week, and you worked 2 weeks, you could sue for $2,000).

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