Do You Have A Claim For Breach Of Contract If You Have An Oral Or Written Contract?
Understanding whether you are an at-will employee or have an oral or written contract is critical to enforcing your rights if you are fired from your job.
Most employees in California are at-will employees with no employment contract. This means that they can quit their jobs for no reason and with no notice. Similarly, an employer can terminate an employee for a bad reason or no reason at all. However, not all contracts are at-will. Many professional employees and executives have written or oral contracts of employment. If you have one of these contracts, you could have a right to compensation if you were wrongfully terminated.
What Is a Written Employment Contract?
To create an employment contract, including a written one, the employer must make a specific job offer that the employee accepts. These agreements often contain specific terms of employment, such as duration, pay, benefits, vacation and sick time, and job duties. The written contract is signed by the employer and employee.
Other written employer documents that can also create a written contract include:
- Employer handbooks.
- Manuals or other written statements containing employer policies, rules, and procedures.
- Letters of agreement or a memorandum of understanding.
- Letters and emails containing a job offer.
In order to be an enforceable written contract, these written documents should contain language that the employer and employee did not intend the employment at-will. Many of these documents will contain provisions regarding discipline and termination of employees.
What Are Oral Employment Contracts?
Oral contracts are spoken agreements that can sometimes be binding contracts. For example, if you have an oral agreement promising you a certain job for a specific time period at a set salary, you could have an oral contract. An oral agreement to terminate you only for good cause could also be the basis of establishing an oral contract of employment.
Challenges in Proving an Oral Contract
Oral contracts are difficult to prove, but you should not assume that you have no enforceable rights simply because your agreement is oral. However, you need to be realistic about the challenges of proving your case. Some of these include:
- Your employer and you could simply remember the details of the conversation about hiring you differently.
- Your employer could intentionally lie.
Because there is nothing in writing to support your claim, your case could come down to one person’s word against the other. The judge and jury would have to decide who to believe, and the outcome of your case is much less certain.
To protect against the problems inherent in oral contracts, you should insist on putting your terms of employment in writing. That way you will have proof of your agreement and quickly can spot any misunderstandings before you start your job.
Filing a Breach of Contract Action
If you have an oral or written employment contract, you could have a claim for breach of your contract if you are fired in violation of a contract clause. Other claims for breach of contract might be the failure to pay you the agreed-upon salary or to provide you with promised benefits. If you prove your case, you are entitled to expectation damages. They are the amount of wages and other benefits you would have received if your contract had been performed as promised.
As with most breach of contract actions, you do not have a right to emotional distress damages, punitive damages, or attorney fees. However, if you also have another claim against your employer—such as violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act—you may recover these types of damages.
Keep in mind that you have a duty to mitigate your damages. This means that you must make reasonable efforts to find a comparable job. You should keep written records of your job seeking efforts to prove that you fulfilled your duty to try to find alternate employment.
Let the Law Offices of Corbett Williams Help
If you believe your employer breached an oral or written employment contract with you, you need the help of an experienced wrongful termination attorney. Even establishing a written contract from employer manuals, employer policies and rules, correspondence, or emails can be challenging. Corbett Williams can evaluate your claim, help you build your case, and negotiate with your employer to obtain the compensation you deserve. Start an online chat or call our office today at 949-679-9909 to schedule your free case evaluation.