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Beware promises about schedules, retention that could create an employment contract

by on
in Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

Texas is an at-will employment state, which means employers are free to fire employees for any nondiscriminatory reason unless an employment agreement or union contract specifically says otherwise.

But what if an employer promises an employee a better schedule or that she’ll be retained for a specific period of time? Does that create a contract, thus jeopardizing at-will status?

Recent case: Maria Lewis-Sterling worked as a nurse for a social service agency, and her salary was funded by a grant. Lewis-Sterling was concerned that the funding would run out, especially after she developed breast cancer, which required extensive and expensive treatment.

Worried that she might lose her job and her insurance benefits when she needed them most, she sought another job with more certain funding.

That job, however, didn’t provide health insurance for the first 90 days. She then asked the social service agency to allow her to change her schedule so she could work both jobs until she had completed the 90-day waiting period.

Her supervisor agreed and also said Lewis-Sterling would retain her job for 90 days. Then the grant funding disappeared and Lewis-Sterling was terminated. She sued, alleging breach of contract.

The court rejected her claim, reasoning that the supervisor’s assurances didn’t create an employment contract. Lewis-Sterling remained an at-will employee because there was no bargaining involved. (Lewis-Sterling v. Christus Homecare, No. 4:08-CV-02335, SD TX, 2009)

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