Do I have an implied contract if my manager promised me at least six months on the job?

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Question:

I accepted a job as a corporate trainer; I travel to different companies, training employees on how to use our time management software. I hadn't done any training when I took the job, and I was concerned about whether I'd have time to learn the job and get up to speed. My manager said that he gave new trainers at least six months to prove themselves. During that time, he said he trains the trainer, then attends some of their early trainings and provides feedback. He also solicits feedback from the clients and passes it along. He said that he's only had to let one trainer go after the six-month new employee period.

This all sounded good to me, but none of it has happened! I have almost no support and no feedback, and now I've been told that my job is on the line if I don't improve. It has only been six weeks since I started. Do I have any rights? 

Answer:

Your rights depend on what else you were told -- and what documents you were given -- by the employer. 

Many states recognize "implied" contracts of employment. Unlike written or oral contracts, implied contracts are never stated or written explicitly. Instead, they are implied from all of the circumstances, including the statements of each party, the actions of each party, and any documents that are part of the relationship (such as an employee handbook or policy manual). 

In the absence of a contract stating otherwise, employees in every state but Montana are presumed to work at will. This means the employee can quit at any time, and can be fired at any time, for any legal reason. In other words, there is no right to job security. However, a contract can change this relationship. If, for example, you had signed an employment contract stating that you could not be fired for the first six months of your employment, that would change your at-will status for that period of time. If the employer fired you anyway, you could sue for breach of contract. The same would be true if your manager had explicitly promised orally that you would not be fired for six months. Although oral contracts are harder to prove, they are just as enforceable as if they were written

To see whether you had an implied contract that limited the employer's right to fire you, a court would consider your manager's statements, which strongly suggest that you would have six months on the job. However, the court would also consider any other relevant evidence. For example, if you were told you would be employed at will, whether in the employee handbook or otherwise, that would be evidence in the employer's favor. And, if you signed an at-will agreement, you can't argue that you had an implied contract that promised something different. 

If you can prove an implied contract, then you could sue for breach of that contract if you lost your job before six months were up. 

At this point, I'm guessing you are probably more interested in keeping your job than in getting fired and filing a lawsuit. To get the ball rolling, talk to your manager. Remind him that he promised certain types of training and feedback, which you haven't received. Explain that it isn't fair to let you go before you've had a real chance to show what you can do. Ask him when he can begin giving you the help you need to improve. 

If your requests fall on deaf ears, go to the human resources department and explain the situation. Tell them that your manager made certain promises to you during the hiring process, and that you took the job in reliance on those promises. Ask how you are going to get the training and feedback you were promised. Your efforts may not be successful, but at least you will have put the company on notice that it has a potential legal problem on its hands, which might help you negotiate a severance package if you lose your job before you get the opportunities you were promised. 

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