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There is a question on workplace.SE about a company which offered to pay travel costs for a job interview, but canceled the return ticket after ending the interview - Potential Employer Cancels Return Flight.

Generally, when arranging a job interview which requires the candidate to travel, it is common for the potential employer to pay travel cost and lodging for the candidate. In practice, the employer will ususally offer this, often in writing, but not write up a formal contract or similar document.

In that situation, can the employer later renege on the promise to pay costs? In particular, can they renege after the candidate has begun their journey, thus saddling the candidate with the travel cost?


My thoughts:

  • On the one hand, a simple one-sided promise is usually not binding, as a binding agreement requires both sides to give something (called consideration in Common law).
  • On the other hand, there is the notion of detrimental reliance, which appears to fit here. Also, one could argue that the candidate does provide something in exchange, namely their presence and willingness to attend the interview (basically, the company trades travel costs for having the candidate present for the interview).

So, is the promise to pay the candidate's cost enforceable or not?

Im interested in any jurisdiction, particularly European and US.

  • 12
    In addition to "legally" there's also the problem of "effectively". In some jurisdictions the company are liable for costs incurred while making them pay up. In others they aren't. On top of that you get a second case against them if you can prove that they didn't simply renege on a contract, but did maliciously take action to cause damage (economic and otherwise) to yourself. – Peter Jan 16 at 17:06
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    It's not a one sided-promise. The interviewer is agreeing to pay for travel expense in consideration of the candidate coming in for the interview. – Dean MacGregor Jan 21 at 13:52
164

This aspect (and many others) of contract law is applicable in the US and various countries of the EU.

can they renege after the candidate has begun their journey, thus saddling the candidate with the travel cost?

No. The company would incur breach of contract.

There is no need for a formal contract. The candidate only needs to prove that the company agreed (in writing, orally or clearly through its conduct) to cover or reimburse those expenses and that this elicited a meeting of the minds.

The agreement would be void if the candidate incurred the expenses despite knowing (via timely notice) that the company changed its mind.

Likewise, if the candidate lied on his CV, the contract (here, the company's agreement to cover the expenses) would be voidable by the company, since the candidate's intentional misrepresentations preclude the aforementioned condition of meeting of the minds.

--Edited on 1/18/2019 to add ...--

Per suggestion by @KRyan, the aspect of void or voidable contract is expanded. But first, two disclaimers are pertinent:

  • We need to be mindful that many of the follow-up concerns are either premised on or inspired by the situation described in the underlying Workplace SE post. These are somewhat beyond the scope of this Law SE question but addressed nonetheless, given their relevance as well as the OP's & audience's interest.
  • The follow-up hypotheticals [in this Law SE question] and clarifications thereto neither speculate nor pass judgment on the stranded candidate who asked on Workplace SE. The Workplace SE post reflects a company's breach of contract. The subsequent comments here about fraud hypotheticals are mostly derivative inquiries beyond what is described in Workplace SE. In particular, we do not assume whatsoever that the stranded candidate committed fraud.

The_Sympathizer commented:

can the contract be voided on the spot like that without first proving in court? As it seems like it grants a rather "vigilante" justice power that is open to abuse, since effectively the "punishment" (cancellation of the flight and thus inducing a rather serious physical situation) is administered before any due process has been afforded the one accused.

Yes, it can be voided on the spot (aka sua sponte).

"Vigilante" justice denotes a self-attribution of punitive powers that exclusively belong to the state/government/court, whereas a party's voiding of a contract is the act of foreclosing his losses/exposures with respect to a contract that de facto never existed (such as when that contract was induced by fraud).

I agree that unfortunately that is open to abuse: As a pretext to actually incur breach of contract, a company might allege that the contract was void. That is why (if taken to court) it will be the company's burden to prove that (1) it reasonably relied upon a candidate's representations (2) which were significant and blatantly false (3) given the candidate's knowledge that his lies contravened the job's core requirements.

That can be quite burden. For instance, is the company handing out airfares without first conducting some competent corroborations about the candidate's credentials/skills? If so, one can hardly concede the company's allegation of reasonable reliance. The resulting finding would be that the contract was not voidable by the company, and thus that it is liable for breach of contract.

Also, belatedly "informing" the stranded candidate that the company "is going in a different direction" falls short of evidencing that the contract was voidable. That applies even if the candidate performed very poorly in the interview or screening process.

Given the hardship imposed on a stranded candidate, a company has to be morally and legally very judicious about its method and timing for "going in a different direction".

But absent any representations or [company's] bylaws to the contrary, a company generally does not have the obligation to afford due process to a candidate. The court is the entity with an obligation to enforce due process as provided by law (although many of us in the U.S. have repeatedly experienced the courts' disavowal of due process).

--End of edit on 1/19/2019--

a binding agreement requires both sides to give something

Here, the candidate's consideration is his time and effort to accommodate the company's interest in assessing the candidate's profile at a location that is convenient to the company.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Dale M Sep 30 at 4:00
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Yes the promise is binding and enforceable because of the reasons you mentioned (your consideration is making yourself available at the company's premises, and, should that not be convincing enough, detrimental reliance wipes out any doubt). You have a perfectly valid contract here.

However, a perfectly valid contract means that both parties need to perform as they represented they will, and both can be entitled to damages should the other party fail to fulfill their obligations.

If you made false representations prior to them booking the flights/accommodation (including, but not limited to lying on the CV), the company's damages may be not just what they paid to see you face to face, but also their time (which is, you know, money) and missed opportunities in hiring other candidates (which they would have invited instead of you). In this situation, should the case go to court, you are highly likely to end up owing them.

So, if you are sure that you did not make false representations and, otherwise, are not in breach of this contract, then you have a great opportunity not only to get your unexpected expenses reimbursed, but also name/shame the company and give them a great lesson. Otherwise, consider yourself lucky they are not doing the same to you.

14

As the question specifically asks for different jurisdictions, i'd like to weigh in with my interpretation of German law:

§670 of the Civil Code (source in German) (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, BGB) should be applicable. - @nwellnhof suggested in a comment that it shouldn't, but the definition of typical contractual obligations in the case of an assignment (the German legal term is "Auftrag") in §662 BGB states just two main conditions: The assignee ("Beauftragter") promises to do something ("Geschäft [...] besorgen") for the assigner ("Auftraggeber") free of charge ("unentgeltlich"). - Thus, in my opinion, the "Auftrag" is the proper construct to handle this case.

§670 BGB states, that a person who designates another person to do something, is required to reimburse any expenses that the other person was allowed - according to the circumstances - to consider necessary. ("Macht der Beauftragte zum Zwecke der Ausführung des Auftrags Aufwendungen, die er den Umständen nach für erforderlich halten darf, so ist der Auftraggeber zum Ersatz verpflichtet.")

§669 of the Civil Code (source in German) (BGB) makes it clear, that the designated person can claim the necessary expenses in advance. ("Für die zur Ausführung des Auftrags erforderlichen Aufwendungen hat der Auftraggeber dem Beauftragten auf Verlangen Vorschuss zu leisten.")

These conditions are probably negotiable, but without another agreement they are the default regulation.

Thus, if a company invites someone, without making it reasonably clear in advance that they won't pay for expenses, they are legally obligated to pay.

  • Let's assume that the applicant put a fake degree on his application. Would it in you opinion be a case of Leistungsstörung? – Sascha Jan 19 at 18:06
  • @nwellnhof I added a rationale for my claim, that §670 should be applicable. The contract isn't "one-sided", though, as both parties have to agree on it - as opposed to a truly one-sided contract, like a testament, where only one party agrees on anything. - The key to a contract being an "Auftrag" is no payment, the contract is two-sided, though. I don't understand common law very well, but I think that's a notable difference, a contract always requiring consideration in common law?! – Alexander Kosubek Jan 21 at 12:22
  • @sascha Maybe, but "Leistungsstörung" leads to liability for damages, not to nullification of the underlying contract. - If an applicant actually lied, I'd argue for §313(2) BGB being applicable, "Störung der Geschäftsgrundlage" - that would in the worst case lead to a right of recission (is this the correct term?) from the contract. But I don't think that is within the scope of the question. – Alexander Kosubek Jan 21 at 12:37
  • @AlexanderKosubek: In any case, §670 BGB is what lots of "how do job interviews work" pages cite. And BTW, they also say a) it is negotiable default position in that the prospective employer can exclude reimbursement but has to state this clearly (and in advance). And b) that this applies only if the prospective employer invites the candidate - if the candidate decides on their own to drop by the prospective employer, it's up to the candate to cover travel expenses. – cbeleites supports Monica Jan 23 at 13:12
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Under UK law you can recover any costs from them. You will need some basic evidence, such as emails or letters where they state they will fly you home.

Your costs are things you would not have had to pay if they had not stranded you. Food costs above what it costs you to eat at home, any services like hotels, showers, wifi etc, and of course your greyhound ticket and whatever it cost your friend in petrol. In fact you should claim mileage (typically 50p/mile) for your friend's car, plus any time they had off work.

If you were unable to work any days you should claim you full day rate too.

Add interest, any bank charges you had (e.g. credit card interest, overdrafts) and the like.

Small Claims Court is probably your best bet. It's cheap, you can do it online and you don't need a lawyer. Just turn up and explain what happened to the judge. Best of all it will be your local court, so if they want to defend themselves they will have to send someone or hire a local lawyer. The judge will by sympathetic and helpful, and not expect you to be a legal expert.

Small Claims court has a maximum claim of £10,000.

You can also claim for your suffering. It's difficult to put a precise figure on what you should get for your ordeal, but three days in an airport and having to eat scraps... I'd suggest £3000 as a starting point (£1000/day), assuming it doesn't push your total claim over the £10,000 mark.

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    "some basic evidence, such as emails or letters where they state they will fly you home." - No emails or letters required if there's a return ticket with the OP's name on it. – Peter Jan 20 at 19:48
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    +1 for suggesting a path of action to follow – Leon Jan 21 at 15:19
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Under English Law to form a contract, the essential elements are: 1. an offer capable of acceptance 2. unequivocal acceptance of the offer by the other party 3. contractual consideration 4. capacity to enter to in a contract, and 5. intention to create legal relations, but 6. has no vitiating factors - the ones that might apply are representation and the law of mistake.

  1. They made an offer capable of acceptance
  2. You accepted the offer.
  3. Their consideration was payment of the flights. Your consideration was attending the interview.
  4. They're company. You're over 18. Both have legal capacity to enter a contract.
  5. Intention to create a legal relationship? It was a commercial relationship. It's presumed.

We're up to number 5. That's a legally binding contract. Doesn't matter whether it's in writing or an oral agreement. The interviewee might have problems with proof of the agreement if it's only an oral agreement.

  1. Misrepresentation or Mistake of law? Nowhere in sight in your question.

Seriously, it's that simple. There's no need to go anywhere near estoppel arguments (ie detrimental reliance). It's pleader's last resort (ie you don't claim estoppel unless you have nothing else to hang your hat on).

So by not paying for the flights, It's a breach of contract. The sum of damages would start with the costs of the flight. The sum payable as damages would be the sum to put the interviewee in the position s/he would have been in if the breach had not taken place.

5

I would argue that the company, inviting a candidate to an interview and giving them a paid return air ticket, enters a relationship where they now have a duty of care to get that person back home by letting them use the return flight.

Whatever disagreement they have with the candidate, that can be sorted out once the person is back home. They can try to charge him for the ticket, or for half the ticket, or whatever - but they have a duty of care to get them home first.

In English law, the rules for liability are:

  1. Harm must be a "reasonably foreseeable" result of the defendant's conduct;
  2. A relationship of "proximity" must exist between the defendant and the claimant;
  3. It must be "fair, just and reasonable" to impose liability

I would say that all three apply in this situation, where the harm of being stranded at an airport without a ticket is "reasonably foreseeable", there was a relationship because the person was invited to an interview, and it is "fair, just and reasonable" to impose liability because the company caused the interviewee major cost and inconvenience to gain a small amount of money, that they could have easily got directly from the interviewee.

Interestingly this doesn't answer the direct question (is the promise to pay the travel cost binding and enforceable), but here the actual damage caused was substantially higher than the normal cost of travel. If the company had said "please book the tickets under your own name and at your own cost, and we will refund the cost", it would have been a lot less damage if they had refused to pay later.

2

There are several times I've had interviews where I did not lie on my CV/Resume but did not fit the bill. However, when I got to the interview the job description was misleading or off, or they asked questions that were no were related to the job description.

People here are blaming you without actually having any information to back that up. Also, I believe that there is no excuse to strand someone like that and in a court, you will be able to hold the upper hand here. I suggest contacting a lawyer and finding out your options.

I've done several interviews where I flew somewhere, bombed the interview, and still was able to get home safely. What the company did was place your health, safety, and financial situation in jeopardy. Regardless of the situation, no company should just strand someone like that. It's petty and immature and I personally would never want to work for a company like that.

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    I agree with your comments, but I don't think they answer the OP's question here. – ruakh Jan 17 at 0:16
  • I tried to provide personal insight as well as an answer. Regardless of what others are saying, there is no excuse of just stranding someone. If they felt they were defrauded they could have taken the person to court after he got home. Stranding him like that just ruined any case the company had against the person. – Daniel Shafer Jan 17 at 16:19
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    @DanielShafer there certainly is, actually... If the person fundamentally misrepresented themselves and their skills, they are not only on the hook for the ride home, but to reimburse the company for the part of thir trip which was paid, possibly triple damages on that if fraud can be proven. The company may have done them a favor by cutting the amount of damages that could be tripled. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 17 at 23:04
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    @DanielShafer "there is no excuse" in your comment seems to be addressing the moral (versus legal) side of the story. Even then that is arguable if, for example, the job applicant blatantly lied just to get a free return ride (not claiming that is the case with the OP, just hypothetical): canceling the return flight would be a very good lesson the company could give to the liar and time waster (of course, provided that it does not endanger him; "stranding" at a city airport would hardly be putting him in danger). – Greendrake Jan 17 at 23:09
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    @Greendrake stranding someone can put them into financial ruin if they lack the means to return to their normal life and thus lose their job. That is not danger per se, but close enough. – Chieron Jan 18 at 14:52

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