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Is a verbal agreement to hire legally binding. & Does this case qualify as NOT at-will

Champaign, IL |

Since March of 2011 I have been verbally offered a potential job.

As of Feb. 2012 He shook my hand, told me he was hiring me, and gave me a list of supplies I would need to be able to be able to work. I clearly expressed that the cost of the supplies was substantial. He was very clear that while being a considerable amount to me at the time, would hardly be a week's paycheck in the new position and that I had nothing to worry about. he repeated this sentiment and the statement that I was hired multiple times, in-front of a witness.

He had me send in an Authorization for Representation to a local union Business Manager as an employee of his company.

Running out of room, but B.M. said id be in to negotiate the terms of unionizing in a few weeks.

He is now retracting his offer

To add additional information i was provided the prevailing wage information for the position and promised 6-8 months of work and at the time of shaking my hand and telling me I was hired he had me give notice to my other current positions of employment quitting and/or changing availability as applicable. my supplies total between ~300-500 dollars I purchased a vehicle with conditionals with context to the needs of the job ~3,000 I quit a job that averaged me ~75 a week for the last 7 weeks since he had me change my availability I lost a full time minimum-wage opportunity at my part-time job that I kept during the above mentioned 7 week period due EXPLICITLY to my change in availability. the differences in wages alone is hundreds of dollars..

Attorney Answers 2


You suggest that you had an oral contract as to employment. In many cases, an oral agreement is just as good as a written contract. There are exceptions to this. The Statute of Frauds requires that certain contracts be in writing -- contracts for the sale of goods; contracts for an interest in real estate; contracts to answer for the debt of another; contracts in comtemplation of marriage; contracts that cannot be carried out in the course of a year.

None of these exceptions apply.

The problem with such oral contracts, however, is not enforceability; rather, it is evidentiary. You'd need to prove the contract.

Specifically, you'd need to prove the duration of the employment offer, because if you cannot do that, then employment would be "at will," meaning that either the employer or the employee is free to end the employment relationship for any reason (other than if the employer were behaving in unlawful discriminatory behavior or had otherwise violated an employment agreement).

If you were able to prove every provision of the oral agreement other than the agreed duration of the contemplated employment, then you would be back to the "at will" issue, which would suggest that you could be hired on Monday and fired on Tuesday. You thus would be unable to prove any damages.

Which leads us to consideration of the doctrine known as "promissory estoppel." Promissory estoppel is recognized in many, but not all states. It is a sort of hybrid cause of action -- almost a mixture of contract and tort (specifically, fraud). It resembled contract, except that there is no "consideration" -- the thing or promise that essentially cements the contract. And it resembles fraud, except that one need not prove that the misrepresentation was intentionally made.

I suppose that the easiest way to understand promissory estoppel is that it can be used to overcome the defense of "I changed my mind."

In order to make out a case in promissory estoppel, one would need to prove that a promise was made by one person, and that the other person relied, to his or detriment on that promise, and that there were resultant damages.

Finally, there is a possible fraud claim. Fraud requires an intentional misrepresentation upon which the other person relied to his or detriment, resulting in damages.

You may be able to sue, but depending on the level of proof that you have, and the level of damages, it may not be worth it other than in small claims court. You may wish to consult with a local attorney.

Good luck to you.

Michael S. Haber is a New York attorney. As such, his responses to posted inquiries, such as the one above, are limited to his understanding of law in the jurisdiction in which he practices and not to any other jurisdiction. In addition, no response to any posted inquiry should be deemed to constitute legal advice, nor to constitute the existence of an attorney/client or other contractual or fiduciary relationship, inasmuch as rendering legal advice involves the ability of the attorney to ask appropriate questions of the person seeking such advice and to thus gather appropriate information. In addition, an attorney/client relationship is formed only by specific agreement. The purpose of this answer is to provide the questioner with general information, not to outline specific legal rights and remedies.

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so the key to the promissory estoppel issue is the evidentiary proof requirement of the promise itself? and the key to the "at-will" argument is the possible interpretation of the term of the contract being 6-8 months being the same as the length of my employment as I understand it the possible unionization of my position as an immediete followup to my hire, and my subsequent communication with the local union on that belhalf plays a positive role in the argument that my employment offer was NOT at-will. but since i got no further then a phone call.... are the elements such as a right to the benefit of the severence pacakge and the pension null in void? It seems to me I was supposed to go in to negotiate those terms? it seems the at-will argument is really the key issue.. thanks for your current educational information and any more you might be willing to offer.


You may have a promissory estoppel claim - that in reliance on his promise you took steps that now work to your detriment. You really need to seek local counsel on this promptly.

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