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Most employment relationships are at-will, which means that either the employer or the employee can terminate it at any time, with or without good cause. However, employers sometimes enter into contracts with their employees.
Some employees enter into written contracts with their employers. When these written contracts provide fixed terms of employment, or when the contracts alter the requirements for termination, then the employers may not be able to fire the employees without a good reason. Contracts can contain other terms of employment as well, such as identification of compensation, a severance package, or job duties. If you have a written contract and your employer violates one of these terms, you may have a claim for breach of contract.
Your employee handbook or manual may also create a contract between you and your employer. You should read your employee manual carefully. However, it may contain a disclaimer stating that it is not intended to be a contract. Other writings from your employer may also be considered contracts, although this will depend on the facts and circumstances of your situation.
If you belong to a union, you may be protected by your union’s written contract with your employer. Most union contracts, often called “collective bargaining agreements,” say that employers cannot fire their employees without “just cause.” An example of “just cause” may include instances where an employee violates company rules. This requirement makes it more difficult for an employer to terminate an employee than it is under the traditional “at will” rule. If you are a union employee and your employer fires you without just cause, you may have a claim for breach of your union agreement. Similarly, if your employer is not paying you, or treating you, in a manner consistent with your union agreement, you may have a claim.
You and your employer may also make a verbal contract regarding the terms of your employment. These contracts are often difficult to prove, but evidence such as emails, letters, phone calls, or other communications that verify the terms of the contract are helpful to prove a contract exists.
Your employer’s conduct, policies, statements, and practices may also create an implied contract. These types of contracts normally are created by the long-term practices of your employer.
You may be able to enforce a promise made to you by your employer, even if it does not create an actual contract. You will only have a claim if you did something in response to your employer’s promise and suffered some harm as a result.