False promises – Can an employee sue me?

Managers and HR leaders need to be careful what they tell job candidates in order to woo them

False promises – Can an employee sue me?

Employers try their best to impress applicants in the hopes of attracting top talent. In light of this, hiring managers need to be careful when wooing candidates as they might make a false promise that could end in a misunderstanding – and even legal action against the company.

But can an employee even sue for false promises? To answer that, employers must first understand what is considered a false promise.

What is considered a false promise?

A false promise, more known as fraudulent inducement of employment, happens when a hiring manager makes a statement on something the company can fulfill or avoid, but cannot or does not want to follow through with. These statements are made to entice job applicants to consider the company as their choice of employer. A false promise can also happen for current employees. Managers and HR leaders can claim false statements in order to influence the employee to stay in the company.

These fraud claims could be, for example, promises of a promotion soon, receiving larger sums of bonuses, transferring to their preferred team after accomplishing a project, shifting to a different work schedule soon, taking on more work for the chance to take on an important project, and staying in the role longer for the promise of a more extensive benefits package. Of course, these can all be valid, reasonable promises. Still, suppose there are no signs of improvement in an employee’s working conditions and no movement towards those promises. In that case, it can be considered a false promise – whether intended or unintended by the employer.

Read more: Doing your hiring homework

What employees can do in light of false promises

When an employee believes they were given a false promise by the employer, the employee may claim for damages they incurred for staying or joining the company under a false impression. 

However, employees must prove many conditions to claim they were misled by a false promise. The employee must prove:

  • The employer or manager made a fraudulent misrepresentation of facts and must know the promise was false;
  • The employer or manager made the promise to convince the employee into agreeing to the employment contract or activity;
  • The promise was a leading drive for the employee to accept the employment or activity; and
  • The employee incurred damages like losing a secure employment for the promise and making significant changes to their lifestyle, such as moving to another location.

The employee can strengthen the claim of fraudulent inducement if they are able to provide physical evidence of the manager or employer’s claim of false promises. These can be in the form of employment contracts, emails, letters, and verbal statements.

In order for the claim to be accepted as a fraudulent inducement of employment, the employee needs to prove that the false promise was intentional. If the false promise could be proven to a jury who could allow damages to be claimed.

False promises vs. At-Will employment

Proving false promises may be more challenging for at-will employees. In an at-will employment, employees can freely terminate and change the conditions of the employees’ employment at any time and without cause, explanation, or any prior warning as long as it does not violate state and federal anti-discrimination laws. 

This makes it difficult – if not, impossible – to prove whether the employer made a false promise. Because the employee has agreed to an at-will employment, the employer could not be at fault if a promise of a certain circumstance was not fulfilled since they have the right to change the at-will employee’s working conditions at any given time.

Employers need to keep their promises

It is best for employers and managers to keep their promises even if the employment is at-will. It is every company’s goal to attract top talent while retaining their highly skilled current employees. But claiming to offer specific promotions, rewards, and benefits to entice employees yet have no plans on fulfilling it is poor and unacceptable behavior, especially for people who handle a team and other employees. 

Fulfilling promises made shows how employers view their employees. It is easy to disregard a commitment, but when a company truly cares, they will go above and beyond to offer the best working conditions they can provide based on the agreement they had with the employee. Because of this, the trust of employees with the company increases, which then positively affects their morale, retention, engagement, and productivity.

It is best for employers to be transparent from the start. Alana Free, VP of People and Culture at GoodLife, told HRD that employers and leaders should always be honest during interviews.  

“We’re really honest in our interviews. We’re completely up front – the good, the bad and the ugly of what the role is, of what they’re applying for and what they should expect,” Free said. 

Being honest and straightforward with what employees can expect from their work and the company allows them to form realistic opinions on the organization and see whether they align with the company’s goals and beliefs. It then helps employers see who is the perfect fit for the role and lessens the risk of hiring someone who would resign quickly due to the job position not being a good match with their expectations. 

Read more: Signs an employee is about to quit – and how to change their mind

Leaders and HR managers have a responsibility to be honest with employees no matter the circumstance and should do their best in offering the most suitable working opportunity they can provide. However, employees should also do their part in determining the challenges in their role and to communicate it to their respective leaders. Every role faces its own challenging factors, but with the collaboration and teamwork between employees and employers, it is possible to significantly ease the stress and difficulty through actively resolving whatever is causing the issue. In addition, this helps the company work towards the promises they have while strengthening other aspects of the organization that were not seen as an issue until employees raised their concerns.

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