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Are Promises Made in Interview Legally Binding?


Employees have gained new legal ground in holding recruiters to promises made during the interview. "Under-promise, over-deliver" seems to be the message to recruiters from recent lawsuits.

The theory is that employees pass up other job options on the basis of opportunities promised by a particular company. If those opportunities never materialize or the company goes out of business, employees feel they are entitled to damages.

A recent judgment by the Vermont Supreme Court awarded an engineer $160,000, when he sued the defense contractors who recently laid him off. The engineer claimed his employer knew when hiring him that his project relating to the B-2 Bomber was going to be scaled back. In addition, according to the engineer, the employer claimed that only 40% of its work was defense-related, when the figure was actually 70%.

Attorney Robert Barrows, involved in a similar suit, believes these cases put up walls between employees and employers. According to Barrows, "These kinds of cases discourage employers from ever discussing with employees plans for the future. It makes it harder to recruit and harder to have a working relationship."

How do you protect yourself from these charges? Obviously, put everything in writing and consider using noncommittal phrases such as "possible" and "maybe" when explaining future job functions and opportunities.