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Can I sue if my employer breaks an oral agreement by firing me?

If you have suddenly found yourself terminated from your California workplace and there is no written contract that spells out the terms of your dismissal, or if you are certain you have not violated any workplace standards that could cause your firing, you may want to think if your employer has verbally promised employment based on certain standards. In some cases, an employer’s spoken word is as binding as a written document, and if broken, can be grounds for wrongful termination.

According to Findlaw, a verbal declaration made by an employer can create a binding employment contract in many states. That statement can take on the form of promising employment as long as a certain general requirement is met, such as the employee providing sales above a certain threshold. In other cases, the employer may simply require good behavior on the part of the worker to stay employed.

However, an employer’s verbal declaration should be specific. A statement that an employee can work as long as the person wants to is generally not viewed by the courts as an enforceable contract. An employer should set specific and tangible terms for employment. So if an employer spells out a certain standard of performance, and the worker meets that standard, the worker may have grounds to contest a firing if no other standards were established.

Courts also typically look at verbal agreements through the lens of a doctrine called the “statute of frauds.” This doctrine states that any verbal agreement is not valid if it cannot be implemented within one year. This may limit the effectiveness of some claims of wrongful termination if the employer made the statement too far into the past. Thus if you are fired two years after the employer made the verbal agreement, proving wrongful termination will be more difficult.

This article, while educating readers on wrongful termination, should not be viewed as legal advice.

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