Breach the contract

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Breach the contract

I’ve been working for a hospital as a registered nurse for almost a year. At that time I was a new grad and was hired as such. When the hospital posted their job opportunity, they offered a sign on bonus of $5,000 and made me and the other new grads sign a contract. It states that we have to work for them for 24 months, 12 months on the unit we’ve been hired to and after 12 months we are eligible to transfer to a different unit. However, after they hired us we never received the $5,000 they advertised. HR stated that the money goes toward our training education on the job because they are investing in teaching us. If we breach the contract and decide to leave, we need to pay the $5,000 back out of our pocket. I was wondering if what the hospital is doing is legal?

Asked on September 3, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Colorado


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

If you signed a contract, then the answer is what does the contract say about the $5,000? A contract is controlled by its plain terms or language: if the contract said that *you* received the $5,000, they had to give *you* the money--they could not apply it to your training costs. If the contract said you received $5,000 towards training, etc. then they  could apply it that way.
And if the written contract said nothing about the bonus, but there was an oral promise of $5,000 in signing bonus made *before* you applied for the job, so that it was a consideration in deciding to apply, they have to pay it to you as the oral agreement stated--oral agreements are enforceable the same way written ones are as a general matter (though obviously, it is easier to prove the existence and terms of  a written agreement).  
(Note if you had already applied and after applying someone promised you a $5,000 bonus orally, that is *not* enforceable--since you were not doing anything new to get the bonus [you had already applied], there is no "consideration," or thing of value, provided by you in exchange for the bonus, and therefore, without an exchange of consideration, there is no enforceable contract--just a voluntarily made promise which the other side may freely renege on.)
If there was an agreement, written or oral, to pay *you* the bonus and not apply it to training and they don't pay, you could sue them for "breach of contract" to recover the money.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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