Earlier this week, I highlighted one holding from a new case from the Connecticut Appellate Court that will be released next week.
Another portion of the case dealt with interaction between the employee and the supervisor. In the case, the plaintiff alleged that she had been told by her supervisor that, after she had been put on a performance improvement plan, she had been told that her progress was “satisfactory” and that she “no longer had to worry about the criteria in the memo” outlining the issues.
The plaintiff contended that she relied on supervisor’s representation that she was performing her work in a satisfactory manner to her detriment and remained employed with the expectation that she would not be discharged for any performance issues.
The defendants argued that the record showed that she did not reasonably or detrimentally rely on the supervisor’s statement.
The court agreed with the defendants that the supervisor’s statement did not alter the at-will relationship.
Although [the supervisor] indicated that the plaintiff’s performance may no longer have been in need of improvement, his statement did not alter the fact that the plaintiff was an employee at will. [The supervisor's] statement did not change the terms of the plaintiff’s employment; she still could be terminated for any reason or no reason at any time. [A]lthough the plaintiff may have been encouraged by [her supervisor]’s statement that her work was now satisfactory, her reliance on the statement was not justifiable when [the employer] still reserved the ‘‘unfettered discretion to end the employment relationship at any time.’’
The court conclusion is an important one because it prevents an employee from trying to circumvent an otherwise clear at-will relationship. For employers, this means making sure offer letters and handbooks contain conspicuous at-will language.