Everyone has to earn a living. As they say, we all need to eat. However, for many of us, a job is more than a hedge against hunger or a way to survive. Our job is our career. It does far more than put food on the table and provide shelter. It gives us a lifestyle. It provides a professional identity. It allows us to save for a comfortable retirement and leave a legacy behind for our children after we’re gone. Our job is much more than a way to earn a living – our job is our life.
As a result, no one wants to think about losing their job. In fact, we do everything possible to ensure that doesn’t happen. We show up on time, work hard and make sure that we’re productive. We do our best, using both creativity and professional skills to keep our employer profitable. Unfortunately, sometimes this isn’t enough. Solid, productive employees can still find themselves without a job, despite their best efforts.
This can occur because Colorado is an “at-will” employment state. This means that there is a rebuttable presumption that either the employer or employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, with cause or without cause. So, just as you, as an employee, can leave one job for another job with better benefits and more pay, your employer can fire you for any good reason, or for no reason whatsoever.
Of course, there are a few exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine. For example, an employer may not terminate an employee for any discriminatory reason, such as race, sex, or age. However, one of the most powerful exceptions to at-will employment is an employment contract.
An employment contract is an understanding between an employer and employee regarding terms and conditions of employment. Typically, an employment contract is a written document that lays out all of the terms that the parties have agreed upon. This is referred to as an express agreement. However, under certain circumstances, an employment contract may be formed in the absence of a formal document. This is referred to as an implied agreement. Let’s take a closer look at both types of contract.
An employer is under no obligation to enter into an employment contract with an employee. In other words, employment is not conditional on the existence of a contract. In most cases, if you are offered a job, you either take it or you don’t. If you want an employment contract and the employer isn’t willing to enter into one, your only choice is to either walk away from the job or begin working without a contract.
However, in some cases, an employer is willing to enter into an express agreement with an employee as a condition of employment. As was previously stated, an express employment contract is a written document that memorializes an employment agreement between an employer and an employee. As with any contract, the terms of this agreement are up to the parties involved. From an employee’s point of view, a good employment contract will confer certain rights to them, such as salary, position, term of employment, benefits, and severance.
However, depending on the language used, an employment contract can also be used to take away rights that the employee would otherwise have had. After all, an employment agreement is a negotiation. If one party can gain an advantage over the other party and that advantage is legal, why wouldn’t they do so? A naive or inexperienced employee may find that they have signed away their right to work for a competitor following voluntary or involuntary dismissal, or the right to have their case heard by a jury in the case of a dispute. This is why it is extremely important to have an experienced employment contract attorney review any document before it is signed.
Under the right circumstances, an employment contract can be created between an employer and employee in the absence of an express agreement. This most often occurs where an employer’s verbal or written statements or usual way of doing business gives rise to an implied contract between the parties, even when no written contract exists. These circumstances include:
If an express or implied employment contract exists and its terms or conditions have been breached, the affected employee may be entitled to damages. These damages are generally equal to what the employee would have received if the breach of contract had not occurred. For example, if the terms of the contract were that the employee would receive $100,000 per year for a two-year term of employment and the employee was terminated after six months of work, he or she would be entitled to $150,000 in damages. It should be noted that when an employment contract is breached, the employee has a duty to mitigate their damages. In general, this means that they are required to look for another job.
Employment contract law is complex, and employers will often make every effort to fight the charges made against them. At Marathon Law, LLC, we use our knowledge of employment contract law and our experience in these cases to get the results that our clients deserve. Contact us for a free, confidential consultation at 303-704-1222, or via our website contact page.