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Michigan re-visits law on "legitimate expectation of job security"

The Michigan Court of Appeals recently heard argument on another case addressing the limits and enforceability of employer promises of long-term employment.

As frequently happens, Charles Cantin was repeatedly encouraged by his employer to give best efforts to the Company by a reminder that he would always have a job unless he engaged in illegal behavior.  In Cantin's case, he alleged that the owner of the company made express oral representations of job security that were not inconsistent with the policies and procedures outlined in the employment manual.  Under Michigan law, employment relationships are presumed to be "terminable at will" and an implied contract of job security will be recognized only where the employer creates in his employees a "legitimate expectation" of continued employment.  Under this theory, "oral statements of job security must be clear and unequivocal to overcome the presumption of employment at will".

Cantin claimed that at the time he was hired, the sales manager told him people were fired from the company only for problems involving theft or dishonesty.  He claimed that the owner specifically told him that "as long as he did his job" he would only be terminated for [circumstances evidencing just cause].  The owner acknowledged that he may have told employees this, and the employment handbook was silent on the topic of "good cause" or "at will" employment.

Nevertheless, the dismissal of Cantin's wrongful discharge claim was upheld by the Court of Appeals, which determined that his evidence was not "clear and unequivocal".

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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