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What Constitutes An Enforceable Employment Contract?

The general rule in Texas. The general rule in Texas is, absent an employment contract for a term or limiting an employer's right to terminate, an employment-at-will exists, meaning an employee can be terminated for a good reason, a bad reason or no reason at all, so long as it is not an unlawful reason.  In a previous post, I explained the doctrine of employment-at-will. The issue then is, "What constitutes an enforceable employment contract?" The right question. The way employment attorneys phrase the question is, "What is necessary to modify the employment-at-will relationship?"  If you have a written contract stating you will be employed for a term (1 year, 2 years, etc.) and that you cannot be terminated except for good cause, you are not an employee-at-will and you are protected from arbitrary or unjust termination.  That's easy. The more difficult question is what to do in the situation where the employer gives verbal assurances of continued employment. Texas courts are clear on what it takes to modify employment-at-will. In Texas, the courts have been pretty strict in prohibiting verbal modifications to the employment-at-will relationship.  What they have been clear on is that if the employer agrees to specific conditions under which the employee will not be terminated, an enforceable contract exists. How we prevailed using this little-known exception to employment-at-will. We were able to use this little-known exception to employment-at-will in a case where our client alleged he had been promised he would not be terminated for ensuring the bus company he worked for complied with federal safety regulations.  We were able to prove to a jury he was terminated for doing just that. A rare but proper jury verdict. As a result, we obtained a substantial jury verdict which was upheld on appeal.  It is discussed in more detail at another place on this website. It is one of the few published opinions in Texas where a verbal employment contract limiting termination has been recognized.  The rarity of such cases is not because this fact situation is rare, but because attorneys are not familiar enough with this area of employment law. Applying this principle in the workplace. This same principal can be applied with regard to employee policy manuals that promise employees if they report wrongdoing they will not be terminated.  In Texas, such a promise creates an enforceable contract that alters the employment-at-will doctrine.  GSF

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