If I received a verbal promise of a raise in pay for performing extra duties at work and my employer has failed to give me my raise, can I sue for loss of wages?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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If I received a verbal promise of a raise in pay for performing extra duties at work and my employer has failed to give me my raise, can I sue for loss of wages?

It’s been three months since my general
manager promised me a raise in exchange for
my paying to get a certificate allowing me to do
county inspections on vehicles. It’s been long
enough five paychecks and I’ve had little
enough success that I’m
considering/researching potential legal action.
There are three of us at the shop that are in the
same boat. I don’t think the other guys have
looked or thought to look at Utah wage laws or
what their options are, but this company has a
trail of people who’ve paid money out of pocket
to get training after being offered raises for
doing the extra jobs, and the extra
responsibilities are being done, but they never
get the promised raise.
I don’t want to just jump into attack mode, but I
need them to know that this isn’t okay and they
can’t just lie to me and their other employees.

Asked on January 16, 2018 under Employment Labor Law, Utah


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Usually, oral (that's the better term than "verbal" for something unwritten) promises of raises are not enforceable. But they may be, if they are not just a promise, but rather formed an oral contract (unwritten contracts are enforceable). To have a contract, it's not just that the employer must have promised you something; it's that their promise must have been contingent on you doing something in return, so that there is an exchange of "consideration"--each side (you and the employer) giving or promising the other side something of value or something the other side wants (that you will pay out of pocket and do any work or paperwork required to get the certificate they wanted, in exchange for a raise once you do so). When there is an agreement as to what has to be done, evidence that the two sides did agree to those terms, and an exchange of consideration, there is an contract. And if there was a contract, if one side has performed as required (did what they agreed to), then the other side is reciprocally obligated to perform its part--i.e. if you go the certificate, they have to give you the raise.
If the employer won't give you the raise, you could file a "breach of contract" lawsuit in court to get the money to which you are entitled. This is obviously a drastic step, and success is never guaranteed (even when you seem to have a good case, courts sometimes don't decide the way you think they should; never believe any lawyer who promises you will win), but is still an option you could pursue for the money.

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