The general rule is that oral employment contracts are NOT enforceable in New York; instead, an employee will be an employee “at will” – meaning that your employment can be terminated for any or no reason with little or no notice. So while your boss may like you and value your contributions to the company, it doesn’t mean anything if he or she tells you that you can work there “as long as you want,” “for a long time” or “forever.” There is simply no guarantee that you will be employed for any period of time or that your job duties or salary couldn’t change at a moment’s notice.
Statute of Frauds
New York’s Statute of Frauds is a general law that requires that certain types of agreements be in writing. While the Statute of Frauds has a number of provisions that apply to all contracts, the provision that is of particular importance here is the section that requires that any agreement that is not – or cannot – be performed within one year, must be in writing and signed by the party that it is being enforced against (in your case, your employer). Courts have typically held that oral employment agreements that are open ended or for an undefined period of time violate the Statute of Frauds and, as a result, are unenforceable and the employee will be “at will.”
Conversely, if the oral employment agreement is meant to last for less than one year (which is likely rare), it can be enforceable if there is sufficient evidence that the parties have reached an agreement as to all the important terms.
Importance of Written Agreements
As the above makes clear, if you want to be sure that you have an agreement for a specific period of time, you should make sure that you get the agreement in writing. While many employers will be reluctant to do so, this is really the only way to ensure that you have an agreement that will be enforceable in court. If you have additional questions about drafting, negotiating or enforcing a written agreement, it is important that you consult with an attorney that specializes in this area of the law. If you would like to be connected with an attorney that may be able to help you, please contact us here.