Laid off soon after relocating to California

Last year I was working for a company in the UK. At the time, this company announced a massive re-organization and basically gave me two options: (i) take a redundancy (or severance) package of approximately £30k ($45k) after tax and leave the company, or (ii) accept a 50% salary increase and relocate to California. The company also offered to pay all my relocation expenses, visa expenses and offered free temporary accommodation in California for 3 months. I accepted option (ii) as I was told by my boss that this would be a good career move for me.. and I obviously agreed with him.

So I relocated from the UK to California about one month ago. However, it was just announced internally that the company is going through very difficult times and will implement severe cost cutting measures involving massive layoffs. I am expecting more details in the next few days, but I am pretty sure that I will be told that I do not have a job anymore (as well as most of my team).

My question is: do I have a case here? To me it doesn't make any sense at all that the company went through everything I described above (salary increase, paying a lot of expenses, etc) to move me to California, to then announce that I would loose my job right after I relocated. I suspect that in the next few days all details will be revealed, but it would be REALLY useful if someone could share his/her comments as I would like to enter a potential negotiation with my employer already knowing what cards I have on my hand (if any). I never thought I would be going through this and it is killing me...

Thank you so much for your support.

R

2 answers  |  asked Jun 14, 2012 9:12 PM [EST]  |  applies to California

Answers (2)

Marilynn Mika Spencer
You may have a claim for promissory estoppel, which is recognized by most states. This doctrine allows a court to enforce a promise in the interest of justice if all of the following elements are present:

-- one party makes a gratuitous promise to another (that is, a promise it was not required to make, such as a job offer); AND

-- a second party changes its position, circumstances or actions in reliance on that promise (moves, quits another job, etc.); AND

-- that reliance was reasonable; AND

-- the second party was harmed due to its changed position, circumstances or actions.

Note this in this case, the court is enforcing the promise, not enforcing a contract.

In a promissory estoppel situation, a court could determine the (potential) employer was at fault for causing you to change your life in the expectation of a job.

Terms in an offer letter may make a difference. For example, the letter may contain "waffle words," such as "The employer can withdraw this offer at any time" or "This offer does not guarantee employment," or "This offer is contingent on passing a qualifying exam" or other similar language.

The interactions between the parties are also significant. It is helpful if there are written communications, such as e-mail messages, that show the employer knew you were relying on the promise. For example, if you told the employer that you were resigning your other job, relocating, or making other changes in your life because of your pending employment with the employer, these communications would support a claim for promissory estoppel.

The devil is in the details, so you must present your facts to an attorney in your state who can give you the dedicated attention your situation deserves.

You can find a plaintiffs employment attorney on the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) web site www.nela.org. NELA is the largest and most influential bar association in the country for attorneys representing working people. You can search by location and practice area. Also, NELA has affiliates in every state and many cities which are listed on the NELA site. Not all NELA attorneys are named on the web site or affiliate site. This should not influence your selection; attorneys can choose whether or not to purchase a listing in the national directory, and each affiliate has its own rules for listing.

I hope you can resolve your situation and wish you the best.

posted by Marilynn Mika Spencer  |  Jun 25, 2012 01:03 AM [EST]
George Allen
In a situation like yours, there's a possible violation of law if the company knew about the future downturn and failed to tell you, or negligently made unfounded representations about future job security. As always, the details matter. You should chat with an experienced employment attorney. Good luck.

posted by George Allen  |  Jun 15, 2012 09:11 AM [EST]

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