Employer not meeting the job offer commitments. Any recourse?
May 18, 2023 1:08 AM   Subscribe

I e-signed a job offer for Status: Full-time regular Weekly Hours: 40 hours weekly & benefits in the USA. The company overpromised & deliver on the commitment only being able to provide 26 hours on average. Due to the income shortfall I couldn't afford the health insurance package. It's a relatively low-paying job at $16 hourly, I'm earning $1000 less a month than expected & have not earned approx $3000. Is it worth it to legally pursue anything?

I know you Mefites are not a lawyer, but I'm collecting general opinions. I'm in Colorado and this is an enormous company with deep pockets and lawyers.

(Also note: This is also only a survival job while I looked for something in line with my career. My hiring manager was aware of this, but I was really counting on this income before everything went to s**t. This isn't directly related to the question about recourse for my financial shortfall, but I LOATH this job now. My attitude towards the job and company is completely spoiled and becoming contemptuous. I feel super burned. The real question continues below)

I worked for this company briefly last year. In January my previous manager brought me back part-time but they told me ahead of time that they might be bringing on a full-time person with full benefits and she wanted to suggest me. The week I was rehired part-time she gave her two-week notice. One of her long-time reports became the location manager (full-time) but they needed another full-time employee and the outgoing manager regional manager recommended me for a second full-time role.

They were having a staffing shortage at the time, which I later found out was due to poor talent planning. the regional manager called me to ask if I would work full time and that they wanted to make me a full-time employee immediately. I told him that I was definitely interested but was unsure that there was enough work/hours at the location for another full-timer. He guaranteed me that they would be getting very busy shortly and that there would be more than enough working hours during the week. We spoke again a few days later. I told him I would like the position but this time asked him, "Are you 100% sure that you can support a new full-time worker?" Based on hours of operations it seemed very unlikely. He told me it was no problem and that he would send a new job offer agreement within 24 hours if I wanted the position. Stull skeptical I told him yes. The job offer letter arrived in my inbox the next morning. I thought to myself, "Wow. They must be serious about this"

The next day I saw my new manager I told her I signed the job offer letter and wanted to discuss scheduling for the 40 weekly hours. She responded curtly with, "That's not possible. Even I can't get a full-time work week" I told her I signed an agreement two days earlier and that her boss twice verbally told me I would be getting scheduled full-time. She told me to take it up with him and basically blew me off.

As you can imagine, I was furious. I don't get angry very often, but I was FURIOUS and bit my tongue. I sent some appropriate emails about it and spoke with the regional who told me she was mistaken and that he'd handle it. Since then they have come through on average with 26 hours weekly - 60% of the work they promised. I ultimately couldn't afford the health insurance plan which was a big part of their pitch to me for working with them.

Since then, they tried to schedule me 40 hours but it ended up being a scheduling nightmare for everybody involved. As I brought up earlier, they were never able to provide enough working hours. This was a huge overpromise and underdeliver situation.

For a $16 an-hour role I can't imagine this is worth pursuing but I've lost thousands of dollars I was counting on based on this "job offer" letter I signed. I believe the following includes all the relevant language from the job offer letter I electronically signed.

(1) “This letter confirms our offer and your acceptance of a position as a part-time Tea Pot Maker. Our offer to you includes base pay in the amount of $16.20 per hour. This role is nonexempt. This offer letter should not be construed as a contract of employment. COMPANY is an employment-at-will company.”

(2) “I am writing to confirm that, with effect from x/x/xxx, the following changes to your terms and conditions of employment will apply: Status: Full-time regular Weekly Hours: 40 hours/week All other terms and conditions outlined in your assignment details remain the same and you should treat this letter as an addendum.”

I currently have some state health insurance coverage which I need. The available hours I have been receiving are just two hours a week higher than my cutoff to lose benefits as the pandemic emergency ended this month. I knew they couldn't meet their commitments and provide enough work and I lost the window to sign up for their insurance plan so I had to tell them I needed to put a hard cap on my available working time.

I asked to schedule a call with HR and the regional manager to discuss but the regional headed me off and spoke with HR first before leaving for vacation for two weeks and they sent me some noncommital emails about what my new availability constraints would be but never directly addressing my request to speak. I know it's silly and wouldn't resolve anything but I really wanted a verbal commitment and to explain the strain I'm now under. I've been sitting on those emails and sat down to provide a thoughtful response about my constraints when I realized I am wasting my personal time trying to write emails to explain that I was expecting whatever new less valuable agreement to be honored. What was I thinking? What was I expecting would happen? This is stupid and they are unreliable. It's time to move on. I don't think is probably realistic to get some kind of back compensation, but as far as I can tell I have, if not a formal contract, but an agreement they didn't fulfill in writing.

Since that night I'm 100% ready to give my notice and much like tonight have been ruminating over the situation and ruining my evenings. I really want to fulfill the "at-will" part of my side of employment law and give notice effective immediately. It's not the wisest decision to quit without another low-paying "survival" job lined up, but it won't be the end of the world, just a huge pain in the ass and will hurt financially. I can probably go to the other employer I mentioned and get hired within a few weeks. I think I'd rather spend my time and mental energy on moving on over short-term low and inconsistent income.

Just for color: They can only have no more and no less than two people working at once. In the last four weeks, there have been five fire drills with them trying to find a fill-in for the next morning or that day. These calls come at 10 pm in the evening or 6am in the morning. The new manager has other serious boundary problems and I've learned to put my phone on silent. One time she called at 7:30am on my day off to ask me about some insignificant thing I had forgotten about that happened the previous week. That call was the opposite of a fire drill.

I counted schedule changes the other day, over 8-weeks there were 67 changes to the schedule averaging 8.4 changes per week and 1.7 changes per shift. There is so much more chaos but it's 2am and I digress. This has been a nightmare. Sometimes the manager gets nitpicky about little things like not putting something in the wrong place and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. They can't provide me with the compensation they promised and she wants to criticize me about something not being done to her her specific liking. Whether my thoughts about these little things or petty or not, I maintain professionalism but it's getting hard to maintain a facade. Usually, little things roll off my back.
posted by Che boludo! to Work & Money (11 answers total)
INAL and I'm not in the US, so the whole at-will employment stuff is a bit of a mystery to me, but FWIW as an outsider's sift of the main points in your post it seems that all these things are true:

* This job is pissing you off and is harming you mentally/emotionally and financially.
* They've demonstrated they're not to be trusted, won't keep their word, and are poor communicators, so the odds of you being able to rectify this seem slim.
* You don't have a contract (no idea if your offer letter in fact constitutes a contract in the eyes of the law, I guess if you really wanted to lawyer up you could ask them, but if it does, what then? More expensive legal proceedings?)
* They have fancy lawyers.
* You could quit tomorrow and get another job within a few weeks.

In which case I'd suggest you do just that, if, as you say, it won't totally ruin you financially. Sorry you're being so badly treated, it's super-unfair, and if you can cut your losses and get out, it sounds like it would be a net benefit to do so.
posted by penguin pie at 3:35 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]

You are likely eligible for unemployment benefits or even partial unemployment benefits while you continue working, since your employer is not able to deliver their promise to provide you with full time work. Colorado has really been cranking out the worker friendly protections the last several years. Call them.
posted by phunniemee at 5:04 AM on May 18 [12 favorites]

Oof, that sucks. It’s no wonder you’re angry.

Realistically, I don’t know that there’s much you can do to force the company to give you the hours (unless you’re on contract — different than an at-will job offer letter— or part of a union). I second the suggestion to look into partial unemployment benefits; depending on your state, you might also be eligible for full unemployment if you quit (the term to ask about is “constructive dismissal”, which may be what they’re doing by starving you of hours). Ultimately, though, I think your energy will be best spent looking for a new job, not engaging further with these dipshits. Even if you were to find some legal way to force them to give you the hours (which I think is unlikely), it would take a lot of your time and money, and it would leave you working at a company full of incompetent jerks. Better to look into UI benefits and find the quickest route out of there.
posted by ourobouros at 5:32 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]

You can apply for unemployment benefits and they will review your case and let you know if you meet the criteria. It will likely not make up the full shortfall and you will pay taxes on that income but it might give you some breathing room. Put all your efforts into finding something better. You can quit with no notice.
posted by amanda at 5:59 AM on May 18 [2 favorites]

Yes. Call at least one lawyer. You can probably do this without paying up front.

a) Employment offer letters can be legally binding on the employer. Here's an example.

b) This sounds fairly obvious and egregious.

c) Any company with a regional manager 1) should know better, and 2) has funds, somewhere, to pay whatever settlement you are awarded.

d) Ask the lawyer if you're due additional money for damages, effects of lack of health insurance, punitive whatevers, etc.

e) For this type of case, it should be fairly easy to find a lawyer or three that will offer a free initial consultation. They will probably salivate at this case, not just for self-interested reasons; lawyers get into this line of work, sometimes, because of a sincere desire to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen, and so that people like you and me don't have to just take it. Choosing a good lawyer matters too, so pick the one that you think will do the best job.

f) If this has happened to you, it could be happening to other employees in various forms (maybe ask around?)

g) All that said, what US state you're in probably matters, so do call some experts.

h) If a lawyer takes your case, they may be willing to do it on a contingency basis -- they only get paid when you get paid.

i) If you don't want to start with a lawyer, there are also free legal clinics around, and you could try one of them.
posted by amtho at 7:39 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]

I don't know if this is true of all at-will-employment states, but in my state at-will-employment means "your employer can change your job duties and benefits without reason." If that's true for you, then I don't see how you will have any recourse unfortunately - clearly they have the ability to change the terms of your employment at will, which is shitty of them, but perhaps not illegal. But certainly double check on how the law is worded in your state.
posted by coffeecat at 7:51 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]

Even in an at-will state, having that offer letter probably means something. Maybe they could change things after a short time, maybe not, but they did promise something and then not honor that promise -- that means something. Employers can't just lie, not in writing, I think. (But I'm not a lawyer -- so I'd be cautiously potentially optimistic if I were you.)
posted by amtho at 12:19 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]

McDonalds is hiding at $16/hour. I say cut your losses and find a comparable survival job or two to fill the gap.
posted by Grandysaur at 10:35 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]

“This offer letter should not be construed as a contract of employment. COMPANY is an employment-at-will company.”

That is the pertinent line in that letter. It basically states that anything they say isn’t an actual offer, and shouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s basically their Get Out Of Jail Free card.

“...the following changes to your terms and conditions of employment will apply: Status: Full-time regular Weekly Hours: 40 hours/week All other terms and conditions outlined in your assignment details remain the same and you should treat this letter as an addendum.”

Note here that they state the new terms, but then declare that all other terms/conditions remain in-force. This would most likely include the employment-at-will statement that says this is not an offer. It’s a huge vicious loop, but that’s the american workplace.

I think your best move is to just quit and find another gig somewhere. Hiring a lawyer would probably send you down a highly expensive road.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:46 AM on May 19

...unless a lawyer is willing to take this as a contingency case, and it ends up not taking a ton of your time.
posted by amtho at 12:22 PM on May 19

More info is needed on a couple of points.

You say they tried to schedule 40 hrs but it was a nightmare for everyone involved and then explain that after a certain point, you put a cap on your available working hours (for very understandable reasons!). Depending on how this went down, it may mean you don't have much for a case, if they offered you 40 hours and you didn't take it/cldnt make it, they've fulfilled their end. They don't have to be hours you like or anything, they just have to make the hours available and if you refused to do them, you probably don't have much of a case for legal recompense.

I'd say cut losses and move on if poss!
posted by eastboundanddown at 1:11 AM on May 20

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