Relocated and Laid Off

by Evil HR Lady on December 3, 2008

I was recently relocated across the country for a position at a better company (leaving behind a good paying, secure job that my heart was no longer in). I was worried about the immediate future of the company (lots of merger/buyout talks) and said I didn’t know if I could take the position because I was upside down on my house and would take a big hit selling. The HR person told me that my contract spelled out the severance package if the company was bought out and that there would be no layoffs for at least the next 6 months. I figured that 6 months would allow me to cover the hit on my house if I got laid off and give me enough time to prove my skill set. However, after 3 months, they announced layoffs and I was let go. Is there recourse that I can do other than accept the severance package (much smaller than if the company got bought) and be upset?

I would not have accepted the job had I known that layoffs would occur this soon and I was even promised that they would not. It was just not written in my contract, just expressed verbally. Also, they paid relocation, and if I left within the first year, I had to pay back a pro-rated amount. Does that impact my at-will status since if I chose to quit willingly I would take a financial hit? They told me it had nothing to do with performance, I just knew the least about the business model itself compared to my teammates, which makes sense, because I was told to expect a 3-6 month learning curve.

Once again, I must point out that I am not a lawyer. And even if I was a lawyer (which I’m not), I don’t know what state you are in. But, in my non-lawyerly way, I’d tell you to pick up the phone book (does anybody do that anymore? Okay, go to Google.) and find yourself an employment lawyer.

In some states a verbal promise is as good as a contract. (I believe, remember, not a lawyer!) Even if it’s not, it would be worth it to get a lawyer’s opinion on this.

I would ask for more severance. I would ask for, at minimum, what you were promised in case of a buy-out. In fact, I would ask for more because of false promises. Talk about a stupidly short-sighted company. (I know, I know, who could have predicted the sub prime mortgage market would collapse and spread into all areas of the economy? Oh, that’s right, everyone with half a brain could have predicted it, except for the people who actually dealt in sub prime mortgages. Go figure.) Only in the rarest of circumstances should a company do a position elimination for someone who has only worked there for 3 months. I say, if a position needs to go, it should be the manager who was fool enough to hire someone he wouldn’t have work for in 3 months.

Sorry, a bit ranty today. I don’t often say this, but I honestly say you should contact a lawyer. Don’t look to win the employment law lottery. It’s not worth that. But a nicely worded letter or phone call from your attorney to the legal department of your company may be quite effective.

This is one of the times I say don’t sign the release that is undoubtedly part of the severance offer until it’s been reviewed by an attorney. Make sure that your full relocation costs are covered as well.

Good luck on the job hunt. Don’t let this get you discouraged.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous December 3, 2008 at 4:46 am

That is a real piece of idea!!

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jaded hr rep December 3, 2008 at 2:14 pm

I agree with the ask for more severance, especially if the HR person is one with integrity (and someone who should’ve known better than guarantee that there will be no layoffs for the next 6 months). Really, what HR professional does that? Other than that though, it sounded like the writer rolled the dice, knowing full well what the risks were, but he came out on the losing end.

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Anonymous December 3, 2008 at 3:39 pm

Even if the promise of no layoffs was not in the contract, it was a promise made by the company, and the writer relied on the promise to her detriment. In most states that would constitute promissory estoppel, and make the company liable for the promises made by the HR Rep. Good luck finding a decent attorney.

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Anonymous December 3, 2008 at 4:42 pm

I agree with Evil – do not sign anything. Tell them you’re having an attorney look over it. Scare them a little – they deserve it. Chances are, the well-written letter from an employment attorney will scare them enough to do well by you. I can’t imagine in a jillion years telling someone that I can guarantee them that there won’t be layoffs. There are no guarantees in life, but this company behaved badly.

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Anonymous December 4, 2008 at 2:25 am

She can ask for what the HR Lady promised, but unless it was clearly spelled out in writing, she is probably out of luck, assuming the HR lady has no qualms about lying and most don’t.

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HM @ Rise Smart December 5, 2008 at 5:21 pm

Great advice, HR Lady. I agree – attorneys work wonders and make otherwise unreasonable people see things in a much different light. You should get a killer reference out of the deal, in writing, before you leave. Good luck on the job search.

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Attorney Richard E. Hayber December 7, 2008 at 12:41 am

In my opinion as a Connecticut attorney, you would have a strong case of negligent misrepresentation. We have a powerful and employee friendly body of law her in Connecticut on this topic, including the case of Stewart v. Cendant Mobility. In that case, a woman was told that she would not experience any adverse employment consequences if her husband, a former employee of Cendant, got a job with a competitor. Guess what happened? He got such a job and they fired her for refusing to sign restrictive covenants that no other employee had to sign. This law, negligent misrepresentation, is probably similar in every state. Find an experienced employment lawyer and get every penny they promised you!

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Abbe Nelson January 11, 2009 at 2:33 am

We were relocated for a position and 18 months later it was eliminated. We had to stay 2 years or we had to pay back the relo. We moved 800 miles from where we lived our entire lives. We were told by a lawyer that in a Fire-at-will state we have no recourse. So here we are screwed in the ATL without a job in this crappy economy. I am so upset I feel tricked.

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LayoffGossip January 16, 2009 at 6:15 am

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