It’s probably one of the most disheartening things that can happen to a new employee: being promised a “long term” job only to be laid off just a few months (or sometimes just a few days) after relocating to a new city or state. Being fired after relocating is hard enough, however, what’s worse is finding out that your now ex-employer never intended to keep you for very long in the first place.
This type of behavior may sound strange to some, but it’s quite common among employers, even in California. That’s why California has a nifty law that helps to remedy and prevent this type of behavior from employers.
California Labor Code Section 970 prevents employers from making knowingly false promises to prospective employees regarding the nature of their future work and/or the length of time they will be employed to get that employee to relocate to a new city. The statute applies to employees who relocate from outside of California, within California, or even from California to another state in reliance on oral or written statements from the employer that are false with respect to the terms and conditions of employment.
Labor Code 970 was originally developed to protect low-wage migrant farmworkers in California, as many employers would make false promises of year-round employment, clean housing and/or higher wages as a means to attract experienced farm laborers that would otherwise not spend the time and money to relocate. Once those workers spent the money to move themselves and their families to the new worksite, they would soon discover that their living conditions were far from sanitary, their wages were considerably lower than what was promised, and that their job would only last for a short harvest season. After turning down other work opportunities and spending the money relocating their family, most laborers had no choice but to accept the less-favorable terms and conditions.
Interestingly, many of today’s white-collar employees are susceptible to the same type of misrepresentations. These employees may choose to relocate based on a prospective employer’s statements/promises indicating or implying that the job will be “long term” or “permanent.” In actuality, the employer may not have sufficient funds to keep the employee for very long or may only need extra help for a short-term project or assignment and may or may not choose to keep that employee afterward. Alternatively, the employer may make false statements about the nature of the job and/or job responsibilities to induce the employee to accept the position when they otherwise might not.
The Labor Code forbids this type of behavior and imposes some harsh penalties on the employer for wrongly inducing their employee to turn down other jobs and relocate. First and foremost, an aggrieved ex-employee has the statutory right to file a civil lawsuit to recover double damages for the employer’s misrepresentation. With this, it’s not uncommon to see damages reach close to $100,000 depending on the employee’s moving expenses and other costs incurred (i.e., costs associated with the sale or purchase of a home, leasing an apartment, buying furniture, transportation, etc.).
In addition, the employer may be held criminally liable for a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to six (6) months of jail time for a violation of Labor Code 970. While it’s unlikely that a prosecutor’s office would pursue a single violation, employers who have an established “pattern and practice” of this type of behavior would be more susceptible to criminal sanctions and punishment.
It should also be noted that an employer may be liable if the employee can show that he or she took the job and relocated in reliance on the employer’s representations that they would be given a particular role or duties within the company but were then given a different or lesser assignment.
If you have been fired after relocating for a new job, you should consider the reasons for termination given to you by your employer and assess whether those reasons (or lack thereof) make sense given the employer’s prior statements or actions.
One of the most common excuses given to employees in this situation is “financial circumstances” or “company restructuring,” however, the employer’s actions would sometimes suggest otherwise if (1) the employment only lasted a short time, (2) there were other positions available at the time of termination, (3) no other employees were laid off, and/or (4) the termination came after the completion of an important project or assignment.
Neither of these facts is definitive proof of a Section 970 violation, but they do act as “red flags” that may warrant further investigation as to exactly what the employer knew when they offered the job. For example, if the employer knew that the company was experiencing financial difficulties or knew that the company could only afford to employ the plaintiff for a short period of time yet made representations that the job was “permanent” or “long term,” the employer will be liable for damages if that statement induced the employee to spend the time and money to relocate.