“Once an employment agreement has been terminated, two months later can the employer terminate it again, for a different reason?”

Question: My employment agreement with my employer was terminated by the employer for convenience, that is, “without cause,” on June 30th.

For the next 60 days, we discussed entering into a new agreement, but never did. In the meantime I continued working while we were speaking. The negotiations went nowhere, so I wrote them a letter stating that discussions were at a standstill, and we would each be going our separate ways as of that date.

There were some continuing financial obligations to me from the employer, so to try to get out of paying them to me, three days later my employer sent me a letter saying that my employment agreement was being “re-terminated,” this time “for cause.”

One part of my employment agreement said “This agreement can be terminated for cause DURING THE TERM OF THE AGREEMENT,” but never said that it could be terminated twice, or terminated after the agreement was over.

What are your thoughts?   

         Canton, Ohio

Answer: Doug, an employment agreement is a contract, and once a contract is “terminated,” it is over. Like a fish that is dead, it cannot spring back to life. What your employer has done seems like an attempt to “rewrite history” in order to avoid paying what they owe you. It is dishonest, a kind of fraud, and despicable.

That said, do you have anything in writing, such as an email, that you can use to show that your employment agreement was, in fact, terminated initially “without cause?” If you don’t, since you kept working for your employer, it may look to others like the employment agreement was not terminated.

It sounds from what you wrote that the monies your employer owes you have to be paid if you were let go “without cause,” but would not have to be paid to you in the event of your being terminated “for cause.” This is rather common; monies that an employer would not have to pay to a departing employee in the event of termination “for cause” would include (a) accrued but unpaid vacation pay, (b) commissions earned but not yet paid, (c) promised severance, (d) partial year’s bonus, (e) vested equity, and (f) possibly, unemployment benefits. 

I hope you have some written proof, or some witnesses, or something else that you can use to show how dishonest your employer is being. If not, you may have difficulty collecting what you are due.

One thing I hope you will do in the future, and especially if you have not done so in this instance, is to “gently” make email histories of what takes place between you and your employer. It is incredibly valuable if and when you get into difficulties later on, as what seems to have happened to you.

Hope this helps. I really do. 

          Best, Al Sklover   

© 2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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