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Oral promise of long-term job will trump written at-will agreement

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in Employment Law,Hiring,Human Resources

Caution your hiring managers to avoid making, or even hinting at, guarantees to prospective employees about long-term job commitments. "Talking up" permanence to lure applicants could crush your ability to fire the employee at will.

As the following case shows, oral statements about a job's permanence can supersede those made in writing. End result: You'll lose the benefit of at-will employment status.

Recent case: A California company recruited Robert Blitz, a financial manager in New Jersey, to work on a multiyear project. But when he said he'd leave his current job only for a permanent position, the hiring manager said the company had approved a long-term job, rather than a project-specific one. Based on that oral offer, Blitz resigned and took the new job.

After the oral offer, the company asked Blitz to sign a written at-will agreement, which said either party could terminate the relationship at any time. Since he had already resigned his previous job, Blitz felt forced to sign the at-will pact.

Two years later, when the project ended, the company laid off Blitz. He sued, alleging negligent misrepresentation and fraud. An appeals court sided with Blitz, noting that he didn't sign the written agreement until after he resigned from his old job, which he did only because of the oral promise of long-term employment. (Blitz v. Fluor Enterprises, Inc., No. G031651, CA 4, 2004)

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