What can I do about a condition of employment that was only disclosed at the last minute?

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What can I do about a condition of employment that was only disclosed at the last minute?

I was offered a job as a leasing agent in a town 2 hours away. In person, the manager told me my salary and they would like for me to live in their apartments and that I would have no move in costs (just something they have always done for employees). We shook hands and I accepted the offer. They needed me to start in two weeks, so I quit my current job, gave notice on my current lease and it is now two days before moving and starting my new job. The manager has just called to say that there will be $2000 of move in costs or I won’t be able to move. In 2 days I will be homeless and jobless if I can’t come up with the money. Can they do this? She keeps saying that it’s corporate policy that she didn’t know about.

Asked on June 18, 2015 under Employment Labor Law, Indiana

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

While normally an employer can change the terms and conditions of  employment at will (that, plus being able to fire someone at will, is what "employment at will," which is the law in this country, means), they might not be able to in this case. That is because, under the doctrine of "promissory estoppel":

* If someone makes you a promise, such as that there are no move-in costs;

* and they intend you rely or act on that promise, such as by taking the job;

* and they know, or reasonably should/must know, that to act on the promise, you'd have to do something to your detriment, like quitting a current job and ending a lease; and

* it was reasonable for you to rely on that promise (no reason to doubt it)

then the law may enforce that promise and hold them to it. (Even if the manager who made the promise claims that the directive came up from higher--that does not matter in this context.) Of course, to do this, if they won't voluntarily honor their promise, you'd have to sue them; and suing your employer is not something done lightly, since it can have job consequences up to an including termination. Therefore, you need to think carefully about what to do, but based on what you write, you may have legal recourse.


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