Can Verbal Employment Agreements Be Enforced?

Sometimes employers make verbal promises to their employees, often to prevent them from leaving and working for a competitor. The promises can range from a promotion to a raise or more time off. However, as time passes, the employer doesn’t follow through on the oral promise, which leaves employees in a difficult position. Should they sue?

Generally, New Jersey law allows legal enforcement of verbal employment agreements. However, the employee has the burden of showing that an agreement existed, which can be very difficult in the absence of a written memorandum. For more information, keep reading or reach out to our New Jersey employment attorneys.

What an Employee Must Prove

There’s a simple reason that businesses run on paper—it is always better to have an agreement reduced to writing to show a court what each side agreed to. In the absence of a written agreement, it is very easy for one side to deny that any verbal promise was made or that the terms were different from what the other side alleges. Nevertheless, the New Jersey Supreme Court has recognized the validity of oral contracts.

To be successful, you need to establish that a verbal promise was made. Typically, this means proving that the promise was sufficiently definite and clear. If your boss simply talked in hypotheticals that one day you might be promoted, then this is probably not enough. The same is true if your boss waxed about how successful the company was and that he wanted to give everybody a raise. That is not a definite and clear promise.

An employee also needs to show that someone with adequate authority made the promise. An employee can’t rely on the boss’ secretary making a promise, for example. Think of it this way: a written contract wouldn’t bind the company if it was made by someone without authority, and an oral contract is no different.

Employees also need to show that they relied on the promise. If you intended to keep working for the employer, then you have less of a basis for a legal claim. Instead, you would ideally have proof of passing on a job offer with a different employer for more money.

In some situations, a contract can be implied by conduct. For example, your boss might have started paying you more without telling you why. This could look like a raise. A pattern of repeated payments can give rise to the existence of a new contract.

Problems with Verbal Agreements

The biggest problem you can face is establishing what was said. Often, remembered conversations have some ambiguity, which often works against the person claiming a verbal promise was made.

To help bolster our client’s case, we will look for proof of what was promised. For example, there might have been witnesses who heard what your boss promised. If they can back up your version of facts, you have a stronger case.

For help with a verbal employment agreement in New Jersey or another employment matter, contact Sattiraju & Tharney, LLP for more information. During a consultation, we can assess what your employer said or did and whether this conduct gave rise to a new contract.