What are the consequences?

Hi Mel,

Great site you have here - thanks!

In the process of being considered for one position, I received an offer for a different position with a different company. I informed the first company of that offer, and a few days later the first company made an offer. I accepted the offer from the first company, with the stipulations of an agreed upon starting date and that I would begin by telecommunting from my present home until suitable housing could be found in the new location. I received a snail mail letter of employment, which I signed and returned to the company.

I began working for the organization on the agreed upon start date, but at the end of the first week I received an email stating that hiring on the position had been frozen. I have not received any other information - through any source (email, snail mail, telephone) from the company since then. The company is located in Georgia.

I am wondering about the wisdom of having accepted this offer in the first place, but given that is a done deed, I have a few questions.

1. Have I been fired? Never hired?

2. What about wages for the time I did work - in good faith - for them?

3. In addition to losing out on one of the job offers I received, the offer I did accept did not include relocation expenses. I incurred expenses while preparing to relocate as required by the company. Do I have recourse for reimbursement?

4. From reading this web site, I understand I may have a legitimate claim for a "promissory estoppal." Do I also have a claim for damages to my career based upon the actual events here?

5. Should the company come back with another employment offer and I refuse that offer based on my previous experience with their hiring practices, what are the consequences to a potential promissory estoppal lawsuit and/or suit for other damages incurred by accepting this position?

6. Just a general question here...As I read the questions and circumstances on this page, I have to ask myself, whatever happened to the 'reasonable person' standard in employment law? I mean, what companies are doing today under the guise of "employment at will" sure doesn't seem too reasonable to me!

1 answer  |  asked May 12, 2002 09:26 AM [EST]  |  applies to Illinois

Answers (1)

Aaron Maduff
The consequences in Georgia

There are certainly a lot of facets to your situation. Your primary concern needs to be deciding what it is you want to accomplish and then looking for the right means to get there. While you have identified a few theories of damages, you are struggling with the issue of liability. And part of what makes that difficult is determining what your state of employment is as you ask in your first question. But let me try to take those questions seriatum.
1) If you have not been formally terminated, then technically you are still employed (unless you have given notice that you are quitting). What that means is a different issue and the scope of your employment depends on the offer made to you. (i.e. should you be receiving a salary; should they be sending you work; and what is the basis for your pay -- what do you have to do to get paid.)
2) If you have earned wages that have not been paid, you are entitled to them. If Illinois law controls, the Illinois Minimum Wage Act entitles you to them. Under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act you will also have a claim. Not being licensed in Georgia and not being familiar with the state laws there, if Georgia law applies, I would assume that there is some law, but I cannot identify it. (However, if we need to, I can certainly identify someone in Georgia who can.)
3) If there is liability, your relocation expenses would appear to consitute a form of damages sustained. Again, the issue is liability here and the problem is that I would need more information (specifically your employment offer) to analyze that issue.
4) Promissory Estoppel is a valid theory of damages, but again, what you can recover depends on the theory of liability that can be asserted. (Again I would need more information.)
5) Each offer should be a separate and distinct employment act and therefore, acceptance or rejection of another offer will not in and of itself affect your current claims. However, if part of the offer you accept requires you to give up claims, that will most certainly affect them. In addition, accepting another offer could change your damages depending on what that offer is. (i.e. if they move you to Georgia for a different position, you aren't going to suffer relocation expenses.) And once again, much of this depends on the employment contract you have (i.e. the offer you accepted.)
6) Last, the concept of "employment at will" has no bearing on reasonableness. All it means is that you have the right to quit at any time for any reason or no reason at all, and the company can terminate you at any time for any reason or no reason at all (with certain statutory exceptions). The idea is that you are not a slave to the company (it can't "make" you do anything, and by the same token, the company is not a slave to you). Of course at will employment may not be relevant if you have a contract with the company, which again depends on the terms of the offer you accepted.
In the long run, I would encourage you to consult an attorney whether it is our firm or one of the many other fine employment firms here in Chicago. Any attorney would need more information, specifically including the offer you accepted. Feel free to give us a call if we can be of further assistance. 312/236-8877.

posted by Aaron Maduff  |  May 12, 2002 9:51 PM [EST]

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