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Make sure written employment contracts exclude oral promises

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in Employment Law,Hiring,HR Management,Human Resources

It’s tempting for hiring managers to oversell positions they desperately want to fill. Although HR should warn them not to make promises the organization can’t keep, it happens. That’s why every written employment agreement and offer letter should contain explicit language limiting the terms to what actually appears in writing.

Recent case: Seton Hall University hired Chander Kant as an economics professor. He later claimed the department head who interviewed him promised orally that Kant would teach no more than nine credits per semester, not the usual 12 credits.

Kant became disenchanted with his tenured position and thought he was being singled out for poor treatment because he was born in India. He sued, alleging a long list of discriminatory acts, such as not rating him as highly as non-Asian professors and refusing to allow him to take sabbatical leave. He also alleged breach of his teaching contract.

But the university pointed out that Kant’s offer letter and each subsequent teaching contract specified that he would teach 24 credits per year. The court dismissed that part of his lawsuit, citing New Jersey contract law. When the same parties sign a new contract covering the same subject matter, then the most recent terms apply. Even if there had been an oral agreement, the written contract trumped that agreement. (Kant v. Seton Hall University, No. 03-6135, DC NJ, 2008)

Advice: Have an attorney review all contracts—especially those involving employment terms and conditions. Your lawyer can make sure no oral promises (real or alleged) trump what is in writing. 

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