Oral Agreement Wins Wrongful Dismissal Case

Think that a written employment contract supersedes an oral agreement between employer and employee? Many wrongful dismissal claims prove otherwise. If you’ve been hired by a company and forced to sign a contract after the fact, this may be of interest to you. Verbal negotiations amended with a formal document should accurately reflect the agreed upon terms between you and your employer. Any contract that includes unfavourable or additional changes may not be enforceable in a court of law.


Wrongful Dismissal-Sign Here or Go Home


A recent wrongful dismissal court case involved a 34 year old television editor and his previous employer, an up and coming TV sports station. The plaintiff was interviewed over the phone, asked to provide an example of his work, and subsequently offered the position of editor and creative director. This telephone conversation included details of his position, salary and start date.

The plaintiff, having taken this conversation to heart, quit his previous job and showed up to work on the agreed start date. He worked for a few hours and was later presented with a written contract that included a 3 month probationary period in which his employment could be terminated without cause or notice. Despite the fact that there was no previous mention of a probationary period, he reluctantly signed the contract. He was fired less than 3 months later and filed suit for wrongful dismissal.


Wrongful Dismissal and Fresh Consideration


What is fresh consideration? If an employee is presented with a contract including new or less favourable terms, that contract is not enforceable unless the employee is compensated for agreeing to the modifications. The employee in this case was not compensated in any way for the written contract (no fresh consideration) and agreed to the oral terms because he had already resigned his position at his previous job and started the new job. The employer argued that they had given fresh consideration with 2 weeks paid vacation and the standard benefits package effective at the end of the probationary period. A poor defence, as 2 weeks’ vacation is the statutory minimum and the health plan was automatically offered to all employees of the company. The written contract was invalidated in favour of the oral agreement and the action for wrongful dismissal was allowed.


Compensation for Wrongful Dismissal


As the written contract with the probationary period was considered void, the plaintiff was entitled to appropriate notice. Damages in lieu of notice for wrongful dismissal are determined case to case, depending on the age of employee, type of employment, length of service and availability of similar employment. The plaintiff had not successfully obtained employment 3 years after being dismissed, despite his education and 7 years’ experience at his previous job. Employment positions in his field proved to be few and far between. For these reasons, it was determined that the employer should have given 4 months’ notice and the plaintiff was awarded the appropriate damages.


Know your rights! If you find yourself in a similar situation, please contact Wrongful Dismissal Lawyer Bob Yeager.


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