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The importance of written contracts

People often believe they have wrongful termination cases when they are fired after some promise was made regarding their position, and that promise was then breached with the firing. For example, perhaps you had an at-will position, meaning you could be fired at any time for a variety of reasons, but then your boss told you in a meeting not to worry because you wouldn't be fired in the next five years.

This is what's known as an implied contract or an oral contract. These can sometimes be used in employment disputes, but it's very hard to do and incredibly difficult to prove it existed at all. If your boss simply decides to deny it and there were no witnesses — and you didn't do something else, like recording the conversation — then it's your word against his or hers. That's not likely to be enough to prove the contract existed, especially if you're the one who has something to gain by lying, e.g., winning the wrongful termination suit.

What this really underscores is the need to avoid implied contracts completely by getting everything in writing. You may think it's awkward to ask for this, if your boss is just trying to reassure you in a casual setting, but you may be able to get the promise in writing without asking outright. For example, you may want to send your boss an email message saying that you just want to clarify that you won't be fired, and then you can save the response.

If you think you've been wrongfully fired based on what you were told, it's very crucial to know what legal steps to take. Again, it's not impossible to win these cases without written proof, but it's tricky, and you need to utilize every tool available to you in Michigan.

Source: Glassdoor, "Everything You Need to Know About Wrongful Termination," Heather Huhman, accessed May 25, 2016

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