Does my employer have a obligation to pay through timeframe verbally email committed?

I moved my family across the nation to take a job last September. In our
conversations email back and forth before relocating they committed to a
year. I was call in yesterday and told they are doing away with my position as
of June 30th. Do I have any legal rights to them paying me through the year
commitment?

Asked on April 8, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, North Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

You *may* have a the legal right to pay, but it is far from definite. Since you don't mention having an actual written employment contract for a definite (e.g. one year) term, I will assume you do not have such a contract--though if you do, you can enforce its terms.
In the absence of a written employment contract, all employment is "employment at will." That means, among other things, that the employer may terminate employment at any time, for any reason, without prior warning.
Sometimes, even without a contract, a court will enforce a promise (generally, a promise not made part of a contract is not enforceable) under the theory of "promissory estoppel", if all the following conditions are met--
1) In order to do something that someone else wanted you to do, you had to do something to your detriment--like relocate;
2) The other person knew you'd have to do that detrimental thing;
3) Knowing you would have to do that detrimental thing, they still made you a promise to induce you to do what they wanted--like taking the job, and promissing you a year committmant to get you to take the job;
4) It was reasonable for you to believe and rely on their promise--that is, no warning signs or reasons to not believe them; and
5) You did in fact do that thing to your detriment.
On its face, you seem to meet the criteria for promissory estoppel, which is why you may have a valid claim. But acting against it is the *strong* presumption in favor of employment at will--that the employer may terminate you at will--and the fact that a court would conclude that it was unreasonable for you to rely on the promise when you did not negotiate for and get a contract--that is, that if you wanted job protection for the move, you should not have agreed to move without a written contract, and therefore moving without one was unreasonable.
It is likely worth it for you to make the claim, including by suing if necessary, but you need to be prepared that winning is far from certain. Still, if you press your claim, you may at least part of the additional time as a settlement, to avoid litigation.


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