What can I do to receive money that I have been promised?

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What can I do to receive money that I have been promised?

I am a volunteer and I work for a non-profit. When I applied for their summer program they promised to pay us a certain amount of money but they lowered the amount once I was accepted. Can anything be done?

Asked on May 21, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, New York


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

From what you write, it appears that you do not have an actual contract or agreement in regards to what you should have been paid. In the absence of an agreement or contract, you can only enforce a promise like this if:

1) To accept the offer, you had to do something to your detriment--like giving up some other firm opportunity;

2) The amount of compensation was a material, or important, factor in you deciding to take this position;

3) The organization knew that you would give up another opportunity to take this position, and knowing that, made you an offer for a certain amount of compensation, to induce or entice you to work with them;

4) It was reasonable for you to rely on what the organization offered, and you did in fact rely on it.

Only if all of these criteria are met, would the promise be enforceable (under the theory of "promissory estoppel"). If it is enforceable, if the organization will not voluntarily honor its obligation, you would have to sue to force them to pay.

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