Do I have to sign an at-will agreement if my employer promised job security?

If you quit a job based on promises of job security, don't agree that you are employed at will.


I was recruited for a CFO position in a neighboring state. After several interviews and some negotiations, they offered me the position, and I accepted it. We agreed that I would be hired for an initial term of two years, during which I could be fired only for good cause or if the company is sold. After two years, there were no guarantees. We discussed this and reached an agreement by email.

I gave notice at my job and put my house on the market. A week before I was supposed to start the new job, I received a package of documents to sign by mail. There was no sign of my employment contract, but the package included an agreement that I will work at will! This contradicts my agreement. The HR Director assured me that they just need to have a signed copy in everyone's file, but this sounds fishy to me. Should I sign it?


Do not sign anything that contradicts the terms you agreed to, particularly an at-will agreement. Once you sign an at-will agreement, most courts would find that your earlier conversations and negotiations are preempted by the later, documented agreement. This is especially true if the at-will agreement includes what lawyers call an "integration clause," which states that the document supersedes all prior agreements and is intended to be the final word on the subject. In short, if you sign an at-will agreement, you may be giving up your contract rights.

You should immediately contact the person with whom you negotiated your job terms and explain the situation. Although you have the terms of your deal in writing, you should ask for a written employment contract that includes your two-year term. Explain that you accepted the job only because of those terms, and that you have taken steps (giving notice and getting ready to sell your house) in reliance on those terms.

Hopefully, this is just a miscommunication at your new employer, which can be quickly rectified. Every HR representative would like to paper every employee's file with every possible waiver of rights, just in case. The HR Director may not have known the details of your offer or may have simply sent out a standard package.

If, however, the company has changed its tune and is now insisting that you sign an at-will agreement, get thee to a lawyer. You may have a strong legal claim for fraud or breach of contract, and you'll want to take steps right away to minimize the damage to your career and finances if this new offer is turning sour.

To learn about other documents you may be asked to sign at the beginning of a new job, see Nolo's article on First-Day Paperwork for New Employees.

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