Does my employer have the right to pressure me to resign from my position?

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Does my employer have the right to pressure me to resign from my position?

I am a tenure track assistant professor going into year 5 of my 6-year tenure period. I was recently offered a post-doctoral fellowship at a prestigious university for one year, and renewable for a second. I have requested a leave of absence from my institution to accept the fellowship, and return to my

position thereafter. However, the administrators dean and provost have expressed their unwillingness to grant me leave, even though university policy entitles me to 12 months and a renewal for an additional 12 months. They have cited their reluctance to cancel my courses even though they are not full, and even though they have canceled courses that were full for other faculty in recent weeks. They have also claimed that even if they were to approve the first year of leave, they would never allow me to renew my fellowship for a second year, even though university policy affords me this right. The dean said that I would have to resign my position. What are my legal rights in this situation?

Asked on August 11, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, Texas

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

If you have a written employment contract which guarantees you the rights you seek, such as to a leave of absence to take the fellowship, you  can enfore those rights (including in court, via a lawsuit, if necessary). But without a written contract, you don't really have any rights: when there is no written contract--or similar job protection, like civil service protections if you were a government employee; or tenure, if you already had it--you are an employee at will. You employer does not have to let you take leave; does not have accommodate you by cancelling classes; can pressure you to resign; could even terminate you or not allow you back if you do go.
You mention univerity "policy" several times. A written policy statement *may*--but does not necessarily or automatically--effectively constitute a contract and convey enforceable rights. The issue is whether the policy book, statement, document, etc. is absolutely unequivocally in laying out inflexible rules or policies, in which case it may create contractual rights; or whether it has caveats (e.g. statements that "employment is employment at will"), reservations of rights for the employer (e.g. "policies subject to change at will"), or other limitations (e.g. "nothing in this handbook creates a contract of employment") which prevent it from creating an enforceable contract. Bring a copy of the policy book/document/etc. to an employment law attorney, to see what rights, if any, it gives you.


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