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How to avoid ‘at-will’ legal limbo: Have attorney prepare employment contracts

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in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

Here’s a case that shows you can’t have it both ways.

A Texas appeals court has concluded that an employer can’t enforce an employment contract against an employee when that contract specifies that the employee remains an at-will employee.

Recent case: Renuka Polimera immigrated to the United States and wanted to stay. She got a job with Chemtex, an environmental testing company that often sponsors immigrants and helps them get their green cards.

After working for the company for a while and beginning the immi­gration process, Polimera signed a contract with Chemtex that stated she remained an at-will employee, but also said that if she left within two years of getting her green card, she would owe the company $20,000.

Chemtex terminated Polimera for cause and then sued her for the money.

The court said the contract wasn’t valid. It reasoned that an at-will employee is free to quit anytime, and holding an at-will employee to a specific time period means she’s not at-will. That contradiction made the contract invalid. (Polimera v. Chemtex, No. 09-00361, Court of Appeals of Texas, 2011)

Final note: Always have an experienced attorney prepare employment contracts. Employers that rely on forms or try to draft contract documents themselves can get into real trouble. A contract that isn’t valid is worthless. What’s more, the time and money spent litigating its validity are wasted.

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