Is it legal for an employer to write you/give you a disciplinary warning for something there is no written policy on?

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Is it legal for an employer to write you/give you a disciplinary warning for something there is no written policy on?

I was written up for calling in for a family emergency because it was an “unexcused” absence. I was also told I would be given a raise and it has been 4 pay periods/ paychecks and I still have not received my raise. Is this legal?

Asked on November 18, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

If you have an employment contract or agreement which specificies the grounds for discipline, that contract is enforceable, and you may only be "written up" or disciplined in accordance with it. But without an employment contract, you are an employee at will, and the employer could terminate (fire) you at any time, for any reason, such as an "unexcused absence" like that you describe--and being able to terminate you at a will, could take steps less than or short of termination to discipline you, such as writing you up.

If you gave up or did something to get the raise--e.g. took on extra shifts, underwent extra training, relocated, paid for some education, classes, etc. out of your own pocket--you may have an enforceable agreement to get the raise. But if you did not have to give up, pay, or do anything, then this was just a unilateral promise (not a contract), which is not enforceable; the employer may go back on its word.


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