Do I have recourse if I relocated my family to another state at my own expense after being recruited to come in as GM but was fired shortly thereafter?

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Do I have recourse if I relocated my family to another state at my own expense after being recruited to come in as GM but was fired shortly thereafter?

We had no formal contracts but I have email documentation that this was the case. I was fired (thus allegedly) terminating the agreement after 3.5 months and told it “wasn’t going to work”.

Asked on December 4, 2014 under Employment Labor Law, Maryland

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

In the absence of an employment contract, all employment is employment at will; this means you can be terminated at any time, for any reason, without recourse. (Or, more technically, any reason that is not based on illegal discrimination--i.e. not due to your race, sex, religion, age over 40, disability status.) Sometimes, even without a contract, you can hold your employer liable for your termination under the theory of "promissory estoppel": this requires that the employer made promises to you, such as of continued employment, knowing that to accept the offer, you'd have to do something to your detriment, like relocate your family. The problem with this theory is: 1) the promises have to be fairly clear and unequivocal--some indication that you'd have the employment for a period of time or woudn't have to worry about termination, for example; and 2) they are not binding forever in any event, due to the fact that employment is emploment at will without a contract--so, for example, let go within 2 - 3 weeks after a move, if promises were made, could easily result in liability (since an employer should reasonably be able to foresee what'll happen in 2 - 3 weeks, and should not have made the promises if termination was likely), whereas let go after 6 - 12 months would not, since after a period of months, the situation changes and its reasonable to let somone go due to such changes, even when there were initial promises. You write that you were let go after 3.5 months because it "wasn't going to work"--while there is no hard-and-fast dividing line, if in fact your position as GM wasn't working out (you weren't accomplishing what they hoped; you were not fitting in with the corporate culture; etc.), then they probably have no liability to you. An employer would be able to give an employee 3 - 4 months but, if he/she is simply not working in the role, fire him or her. Therefore, while you are advised to consult with an employment law attorney in detail about your situation, from what you write, you probably do not have recourse. For the furture: generally,  if you are going to relocate, especially at a high level (GM), you should only due so if you get some sort of employment guaranty, such as for a year of employment at least, or that if terminated not "for cause" within the first year or two, you'll get 6 months severance, etc. This provides you some protection. If an employer expects you to relocate at a high level but is unwilling to give you any guaranty, you probably should not trust them or the situation.


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