What should I do now that this employer did this to me?

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What should I do now that this employer did this to me?

I was hired for a position in which I was highly qualified and my salary reflected my experience. The interviewer saw my resume online and said he wanted me to be part of his team. I was hesitant to leave where I was for many reasons, however he said that he wouldn’t even ask me to leave if he didn’t see me as a long term team member. I saw it as a smart financial decision and started yesterday. At the end of my first shift I was called into his office and let go with no explanation. He said he was very angry about it but the higher ups said I couldn’t stay. Later that night my boss called apologizing and said it came down to money. They didn’t want to pay me the salary I was promised and they only wanted 2 employees in that particular department. He said I could come back but my guaranteed salary would be half of my original promised salary and they would fire the other woman. I signed a paper that day with my promised salary and my service manger signed it as well. He said he still believed in me and wanted me and the other man to be his team, but I would not get the training I would have gotten before because I would be thrown into the position and I would be making about half the money. I feel as if I was put in an awful position. I could keep my job at the expense of another single mom of 2 and just weeks before Christmas. I was supposed to do to this woman what was just done to me the same day, so I made the decision not to go back. I’m jobless now and apparently monetarily ineligible for unemployment because I wasn’t there long enough to make the minimum amount to pull unemployment. What should I do? They shouldn’t be allowed to do this to people.

Asked on December 9, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, North Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Generally speaking, unless you had a written employment contract, they legally *could* terminate your position, drastically change or downgrade it, etc. at any time, for any reason: that is becaue without a contract, employment is "employment at will," and "employment at will" means what it sounds like--having employment, or what the employment is or pays, is at the "will" of the employer.  So generally, you would have no recourse for this.
(Note: if you had a written employment contract, it is as enforceable as any other contract: you can bring a lawsuit for "breach of contract" if they violate it, to get what you are entitled to under the contract.)
There is a legal doctrine which *may* help, but be warned--it is a longshot, because U.S. courts don't like to go against the notion of employment at will. Even when its elements are met (see below), not all courts will apply it in an employment context, but it gives you a chance in a lawsuit. The doctrine is "promissory estoppel," and it can sometimes enforce non-contractual promises. To use it, *all* the following elements must be met:
1) Someone made you a promise to get you to do something: like of a specific job, to get you to work for them.
2) To act on that promise, you would have to do something to your detriment, like leaving an existing job.
3) The person making the promise either knew or logically *must* have known that you'd have to do that thing to your detriment, such as that you were currently employed and would have to quit that job.
4) Even though they knew you'd have to do something to your detriment to accept or act on their promise, they made the promise anyway.
5) It was reasonable for you to believe the promise (no legitimate warning signs) and you did in fact act based on it.
When all these elements exist--as they may exist in your case--it is possible that a court (if you sued) would find their promise of a certain job, at certain pay, enforceable, and force them to give you the job or pay you compensation. But again, because of the strength of the idea of employment at will, many judges resist applying this idea to employment, so while you can try, do not count on winning: it's a chance, not a guaranty.


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