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I had a contract with my employer, but I was fired. How do I know if the firing was legal?

Most people in Dallas-Fort Worth and the Mid-Cities are at-will employees who can be fired from their jobs or can quit for any reason. However, some employers will enter into an employment contract that governs many of the terms of the employee’s employment, which may sometimes include the right to be terminated only for cause. If you are working under such an employment contract and are discharged, you may have a claim of breach of contract against your employer.

What Is an Enforceable Contract?

For any contract to be valid in Texas, something of value must be exchanged by the contracting parties. In the employment context, the employer offers wages, and the employee is providing his or her services. Employment contracts may be oral or written; however, for an oral contract to be legally binding, the terms of the contract  be performable within a year. Otherwise, Texas’ statute of frauds requires that the agreement must be in writing. It can be very difficult to prove the existence of an oral contract. 
A contract may be a formal written agreement that has the title “Employment Contract,” but it doesn’t have to in order to be considered a legal contract. Offers of employment contained in letters, emails, and faxes can be considered contracts, if they provide a fixed term of employment or the right to be terminated only for cause. An employee handbook with such terms can in limited situations create an employment contract, although most employee handbooks expressly disclaim creating any contract.
An employment contract does not need to include every term of employment. However, it should include enough material terms and sufficiently definite terms to make it enforceable. These provisions generally include:
 
Job title and/or job description and duties
Wages and benefits
Length of employment
Grounds for termination of the employment if it is not for a fixed period of time
An express disclaimer that nothing in the agreement alters the at-will nature of the employment may negate all of the above, except possibly an “only for cause” termination provision.

What Are Your Rights If Your Employer Terminates You in Breach of Your Employment Agreement?

If you are working under an employment contract, your employer must comply with its provisions when terminating your employment or altering your compensation. If your company failed to do this, you could have a claim for breach of contract that entitles you to compensation for your lost wages and attorney’s fees. 
 
You also must be certain that you comply with the terms of your contract if you decide to leave your employment, or if you are considering trying to enforce it while still working for that employer. For example, you may be required to give a certain amount of advance notice before your resignation takes effect. If you break the contract, you may forfeit benefits or be liable for damages to your employer.
 
Before signing an employment contract, you should have it reviewed by an experienced employment attorney to be certain that your rights are protected or that you at least know what the agreement means and what it requires of you to avoid a breach. A lawyer can also pursue your claim for breach of contract if you are wrongfully terminated in breach of the contract. To have your contract reviewed, or to learn more about your legal rights and options, call our office to schedule a free consultation with attorney Walt Taylor today.
Walter L. Taylor
Employment & Medical Peer Review Lawyer helping workers, doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists in Texas.

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