Question: Four years ago, I was lured into leaving a stable job, and taking a new job. Though the company was located in Vermont, I worked for it from Virginia. I was orally promised the term of my job would be for six years, which was how much I wanted to work before retiring.
My assignment was to start a new Purchasing Department, which is something the company never had before. Due to a downturn in the economy I was recently laid off, two years before the supposed end of my promised employment.
Do I have any recourse?
A Blog Reader
Answer: You had what we call an oral contract, that is, you got nothing in writing. Oral contracts are just as enforceable as written contracts. The problem with oral contracts is usually that they are difficult to prove. Proof would be no problem if, hypothetically, six nuns were present when the promise was made to you, or if a video/audio camera was rolling when the promise was made. Unfortunately, the “six nuns” and the “video/audio camera” are rarely in the room when we need them most. Still, if you can prove an oral contract was agreed to, it is enforceable.
However, in most states – including Virginia – there is a law commonly referred to as the “Statute of Frauds,” that provides that certain types of contracts must be in writing in order to be enforceable. As part of the Statute of Frauds in most states, contracts to buy or sell land must be in writing in order to be enforceable. Can you imagine how chaotic it would be if people were constantly claiming that “He told me I could buy his house for $10.” This is just one of perhaps a dozen common types of contracts that are unenforceable under the Statute of Frauds of most states. (Virginia’s Statute of Frauds is the Virginia Code of Annotated Statutes, Section 11-2(8).]
Another common provision of most states’ Statute of Frauds is this “A contract that, by its own terms, cannot be completed within one year must be in writing in order to be enforceable.” The oral contract you entered into could not, by its own terms, be completed within one year. For this reason, it would seem your six-year contract cannot be enforced.
Sorry for the bad news: legally, there’s not much you can do. Might you be able to negotiate severance? Might you appeal to the company’s Board of Directors? As it is with everything, it’s always worth a try.
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Best, Al Sklover