34

I was just informed of this situation that occurred somewhere by a co-worker, and was wondering what the legal ramifications are (U.S. Law). To be clear, the scenario is as follows:

  • I tell my boss I've been offered a position at another company.
  • My boss later comes to me with a counter offer of a raise, if I choose to stay with them
  • I accept the counter offer, and inform the other company that I have chosen to stay with my current employer
  • After a week, my boss then informs me that I'm being let go, and that this should serve as a lesson to not mess with him.

For the above scenario, regarding U.S. law, do I hold any legal grounds against this? What options would I have to defend myself (and my family) from being blatantly told that I was fired because I was willing to accept another offer without some other counter-offer from my current employer?

As for the chap this did happen to, I'm informed that he contacted the company who originally gave him the offer, and they were still willing to bring him on-board. So, yay (somewhat) happy ending to an otherwise terrifying situation. However, I'm specifically asking about the scenario in which he was forced to be unemployed for some period of time, while looking for another job (i.e., the other company no longer had the position open)

  • 2
    Given the happy ending, I'd say the chap in question doesn't have much of a case. It's certainly possible that laws were broken, but other than a bruised ego and some residual bitterness, what actual damage occurred? Unless the chap wants his original job back, he should put it behind him and move on. He should also be thankful that he no longer has to work for his old boss. – Mohair Nov 10 '15 at 21:31
  • 1
    Well, obviously the scary situation here is that the happy ending didn't end up so happy. Suppose he wasn't able to accept the other offer. – MrDuk Nov 10 '15 at 21:34
  • 2
    If he was out of a job, then maybe he could pursue something. But the facts of the matter are otherwise. Pursuing this legally really only has two possible positive outcomes: 1) he gets his old job back, or 2) he gets compensated for loss of income while he is out of work. He probably doesn't want his old job back, and because he's not out of work, he doesn't have any loss of income. So what's the point? – Mohair Nov 10 '15 at 21:39
  • 6
    The point is it's a hypothetical question, regarding this scenario playing out for the worse. The ending for the the person this actually happened to is irrelevant. – MrDuk Nov 10 '15 at 21:41
  • 1
    @MrDuk You mean specifically the hypothetical case that the person had a significant period of unemployment after being fired? If so, it would probably be a good idea to clarify the question to state that. In civil matters, the actual outcome for the individual is definitely not irrelevant, as actual damages in any lawsuit would depend largely, if not entirely, on that. – reirab Nov 10 '15 at 22:12
23

It depends to a large degree on local employment laws. Depending on how the counteroffer was worded, it might have constituted anything from a binding legal contract for employment for some reasonable minimum term, or a totally non-binding suggestion that was worth less than the air breathed while pronouncing it. Some things to consider would include:

  • What are local employment laws like? Do they require that termination be for cause? If so, what are causes for termination? Does termination require any kind of remediation beforehand? Note that in an at-will, right-to-work state in the US, odds are that the employee can be fired for any time and for any reason, supposing the employer hasn't accidentally entered into a contract by extending the counteroffer.

  • What did the counteroffer say? Did it stipulate that the offer was not for a definite term and that the company reserved the right to terminate the employee for any reason, or no reason at all? Odds are any sufficiently serious business in an at- will, right-to-work state would use standard legal language in any offer or counteroffer to ensure that they are on the right side of this, so odds are the counteroffer was accepted with no obligations at all on the company.

  • Does the termination affect eligibility for unemployment benefits? I would say most likely not, as the termination would probably be recorded as being for no reason legally speaking (if they admitted to terminating the employee for seeking other employment, interested government officials could take a dim view of the company's actions). You'd probably have at least some unemployment compensation coming your way.

Some professional - not legal - advice. Never accept a counteroffer. Only get another offer in the first place if you are committed to leaving your current employer no matter what. If your company really insists, you should insist on a minimum definite term of employment written into a legal contract which is signed by an executive and notarized. No company will agree to this (unless the term is shorter than you'd want as a full-time W-2 anyway) but if they do, hey, you have some security (if the company agrees to this, have your own lawyer - whom you pay with your own money - review the document). Even then, I would be very, very careful about staying at a company after getting a counteroffer. Don't do it. Ever. Never accept a counteroffer.

One comment asks why I recommend never accepting a counteroffer. There are at least two reasons:

  1. The reason you are looking for a new job should be that there is something about your current job that isn't completely satisfactory and that you haven't been able to fix. Either you have grown out of the position, don't like the work, feel you're underpaid, don't get along with somebody, etc. If you were unable or unwilling to fix any of these issues without having another job on the table, having another job on the table shouldn't be what makes you willing and able to fix them. Why work somewhere that you'd constantly need to go job hunting to address workplace issues?

  2. Unless the company makes firm agreements about how long they're going to keep you around, you have no guarantee that they'll keep you. Presumably, you didn't have one before, and you don't have one at the new job, but the fact that you are currently employed might support the assumption that your employment would be continued at your current employer and the offer might support the assumption the new employer plans to employ you indefinitely. When you put in your notice, it makes the company more aware of the fact that you could leave at any time; while a perfectly rational actor would realize that this doesn't change the situation at all, companies are run by people and people often act irrationally. Perhaps your manager is vindictive, perhaps your manager is scared that you will still leave after accepting the counteroffer. Maybe your manager knows there are layoffs coming but needs you for the busy season. Hiring replacements can be time-consuming and expensive - and employees who are getting offers of employment elsewhere and putting in notice might be seen as risks.

I'm not saying that accepting a counteroffer has always turned out badly. Falling coconuts kill 150 people every year. Still, I am not going to add a coconut rider to my insurance policy and I am not going to accept a counteroffer.

  • 3
    On your first point, I think you mean "at-will employment" states, not "right to work" states. "Right to work" means only that the worker can't be required to join a union in order to work a particular job or fired for leaving or failing to join a union. – reirab Nov 10 '15 at 22:08
  • 1
    I partially disagree with @Kendall. The guy could not be hunting for a different job, but instead was found by a headhunter or HR representative on, say, LinkedIn. I think that accepting job interviews here and there are a good way to survey the market, to understand if you're still in the right level and how are salaries elsewhere. – igorsantos07 Nov 11 '15 at 5:39
  • 3
    @Patrick87, could you elaborate on your reasons on advising to not accept a counteroffer? At least here in Brazil, in the tech market, those are common if you're a good professional, and I've never heard of negative outcomes - nor the original question, neither anything else. The professional ends up more valued since they're being looked for elsewhere - offer/demand :) – igorsantos07 Nov 11 '15 at 5:41
  • 3
    yup - counter offers are not a counter, they are a means for the current employer to keep you employed with them long enough for them to terminate you at their advantage. – BozoJoe Nov 11 '15 at 6:17
  • 3
    @igorsantos07 I don't know what labor laws are like in Brazil, but in lots of states in the US, for most full-time salaried positions, an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason or no reason. Employers in that situation will be loathe to provide any sort of guaranteed definite term of employment, even when making a counteroffer. Accepting a counteroffer is turning down an attractive offer from a new company you want to work for, to work for the same company you're already working for after having put them on notice that you are actively looking elsewhere. Bad move. – Patrick87 Nov 11 '15 at 13:04

protected by jimsug Nov 11 '15 at 0:05

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.