Can an employer change the terms of an employment agreement a year later?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Can an employer change the terms of an employment agreement a year later?

When I was hired, and I have it in writing, I was told that I could work 1 day a week from home. This was due to my taking a 25K cut in pay to come to work for this company. The person who I work for has had me under a microscope since hire to the point where I was ready to file a hostile work environment claim. Now today, HR and my manager, sat me down and said basically,

Asked on September 19, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

The key issue is: did you have a contract? To be a contract, it's not enough that it was in writing from the other side: people put notes, memos, even unenforceable promises in writing, and the mere fact that it's in writing does not make it a contract. To be an employment contract, first and foremost, it must be for a definite period of time--e.g. a one year contract--or at least significantly limit the ability to terminate you. Otherwise, in our "employment at will" employment law, a "contract" which does not guaranty you employment for a set period of time and/or limit the ability to terminate you does not alter your status as an "employee at will," and if you are still an employee at will, the terms of conditions of your employment (such as working at home or not) may be changed at will by the employer.
Second, you must give them some "consideration" for the contract, even if it meets the above criteria. That means you must give, or give up, something of value to bind the contract, like giving up an existing job or relocating. But if you were not working at the time and did not relocate, you gave or gave up nothing for your position, and so there is no consideration and no contract.
If *both* sets of requirements above are not met, there is no contract: the writing is not enforceable and the employer may do this.
But if you do have a contract and they violated it, then you could sue for breach of contract for compensation and/or for a court order requiring them to honor the contract.

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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