Can I Sue My Employer for False Promises?
Yes, you can sue your employer for false promises. Misleading statements can land an employer in court for negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent inducement, or other legal issues.
You do not always need an employment contract to prove false promises. Sometimes, spoken statements, recruiting tactics, emails, meetings, or other messages can count as false statements that land an employer in trouble.
Due to the concept of "promissory estoppel" in contract law, you can recover money if you can show:
- Your employer made you a promise (even without a formal contract)
- They did not keep the promise
- You made decisions based on the promise
- As a result of believing in the promise, you face a loss of money or job security, or other clear damages
Your state's labor laws, employment-at-will laws, fraud claim regulations, and individual legal rights may vary, but generally, you can sue for false representation if you have evidence.
What Are False Promises?
False promises from an employer or recruiter are statements that the company and staff cannot follow through with. But to the employee or prospective employee, they sound like a done deal.
They might tell you:
- "Don't take a different job. We are going to promote you soon."
- "If you work extra shifts you will get the next promotion."
- "If you take this job you will easily make six figures."
- "You can expand your territory and make more sales if you join my team."
- "If you work for me I will let you take all the big projects."
- "Take this contractor role and it will be full-time within a year."
- "You'll get two big bonuses a year."
If you take the job or stay in your current position and nothing ever changes, your employer probably made a false promise. Whether intentional or unintentional, if you were promised something that would have resulted in more money, you might be able to claim damages.
Damages are the money you lost by acting on the promise, such as taking a new job or staying in your current position. If an employer claims you'll make $100,000 more by switching jobs, but they limit your sales territory in the new role, you could sue for the amount of money you lost.
A jury might also award damages for the stress of moving jobs and having to go to court to fight for the money and job security you expected to have.
False Promises vs. At-Will Employment
Being an at-will employee means you do not have specific guidelines for when your job can end in your employment contract. Employees are presumed to be at-will in all states except for Montana. This allows your employer to fire you or change the job role, working conditions, or terms of employment at almost any time.
You cannot sue them for firing you "at-will" unless there are other illegal circumstances at play, such as discrimination. You must choose to continue working in the new conditions or leave.
Employers Need to Keep Their Promises
Recruiters and managers may make jobs sound better than they are to attract top talent. Keep in mind you have rights, and nothing gives an employer the right to:
- Commit wrongful termination
- Breach a contract such as your employment agreement
- Share confidential information
- Pay you less than you agreed or not pay you enough under the law
- Provide unsafe working conditions
- Take away vacation time or benefits that are in your contract
No matter what the details are, an employer can form a valid contract with you if there is:
- An offer that guarantees performance (such as getting a full-time role)
- Offer acceptance from the employee
- Consideration from both parties (both parties assume the promise will happen)
If the performance that was guaranteed is not met, the employer has breached the contract. Contracts can be written or verbal, and a judge will take a contract claim seriously.
Taking Your Claim to Court
You can make a legal claim for "fraudulent inducement of employment" if the employer has defrauded you into staying at a job or taking a new job or position. As long as the change is based on the employer's false statements, you have a claim.
You will need to prove:
- The employer's intention
- The misrepresentation (whether written or verbal)
- How the promises made you decide to take or leave a job
- How you relied on the false promises
- The amount of damages you suffered (that can be calculated, like losing a certain amount of money or moving your family across the country)
The false promises must be intentional, which can be hard to prove. Often employers say they made a mistake or a misstatement, and without a record of the conversation, an employee can be in a "they said/I said" argument with no proof.
You might have a hard time proving you believed a promise if it is unreasonable or outlandish. A judge is unlikely to believe you took a job after you were promised triple the normal salary for the role or a private jet, for example.
Having a record of the meetings, emails, promises, phone calls, messages, letters, etc. can go a long way in court to prove your case. Keep in mind each state has laws on recording conversations without one or both party's consent.
When to Call an Attorney Over False Promises
If you think your case meets the criteria above, you may be able to recover damages from an employer's fraudulent promises.
An attorney that focuses on employment law will know the specific laws in your jurisdiction and review your situation. They can explain your case's strengths and weaknesses, the potential relief available to you, and the likely outcome of your case.