Is it legal for an employer to offer you 3 weeks severance in writing but later call you and say they changed their mind?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Is it legal for an employer to offer you 3 weeks severance in writing but later call you and say they changed their mind?

Due to a reorg a position I held at a company was dramatically altered. I decided to resign and move on I was never given a release or any sort of legal document to sign on my way out. However, I was told I’d be paid for the rest of the week I resigned on a Monday and in addition my boss told me they would be nice enough to pay me for an additional 2 weeks on top of that. I made sure to have that written in my departure letter, which it was. That Friday, I receive a call from HR stating that my boss said there was a

Asked on July 12, 2019 under Employment Labor Law, Massachusetts


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Yes, they can legally do this. The promise they made you was not a contract, even in in writing, because a contract requires that each side give the other side something of value or which the other side wants--called "consideration"--to bind the agreement and make it enforceable. You were not, however, giving them anything in exchange for the severance; it was therefore not a contract, but a "gratuitious," or "free," promise. However, the law only enforces contracts, not non-contractual or gratuitious promises. So they could legally change their mind and you cannot enforce the earlier promise.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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