Officials at the Huntsman Corp. allegedly told James Scott Wesson that he "would always have a job" there. But Wesson's employment contract made no mention of lifetime employment. When the company consolidated operations 13 years later, he refused relocation and lost his job.
Wesson sued, claiming the company breached an oral contract that guaranteed lifetime employment.
An Alabama court sided with the company. For such a promise to stick, the court said, a company must make a clear and unequivocal offer. The comments from Huntsman officials were more casual than that. (Wesson v. The Huntsman Corp., No. 99-10491, 11th Cir., 2000)
Advice: Although this employer won, the case provides a good example of comments not to make during the course of a job offer or when negotiating an employment contract.
While most states require a clear intent on the part of the employer to void the employment at-will doctrine, some courts have said comments similar to the ones attributed to the Huntsman officials create a contract for a definite term.
If you want to preserve your right to terminate employees for any reason, steer clear of promises that imply permanence or even long-term commitment. Always make clear that employment with you is at-will and employees have no right to continued employment.
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- Remind employees often and clearly about handbook
- You don't have to wear blinders to an applicant's known disability
- The clock is ticking: Note exact date employee learned of termination decision