In September of 2021 a large employer had plans to hire approximately 300-400 line-level workers each week, for the next 4 weeks. About one week before the hires were scheduled to start work, the employer determined that mechanical issues on the production floor would prohibit the new hires from starting work on their scheduled dates, resulting in all scheduled hires to be delayed by a minimum of four weeks. Confirmed start dates had been sent to approximately 400 new hires, with tentative start dates communicated to the remaining 800 new hires. In discussions with Human Resources, the company’s operations were informed that all scheduled new hires, approximately 1100 individuals, would be paid from their scheduled start date to their delayed start date, costing the company a total of 1.2 million dollars… jaws dropped, curse-words were spoken, and the operations department could not understand why, when these individuals were not even officially employed yet, would be paid to sit at home. The answer was promissory estoppel claims, which was received with blank stares and the words “promissory what?”
The above situation inspired my capstone paper, You're Hired: Just Kidding! An examination of mass hiring strategies, delays, and promissory estoppel liability. While researching the doctrine of promissory estoppel, I’ve been unable to find any mass hiring claims, or claims involving line-level workers, despite knowing of and personally experiencing situations like the above have occurred with both small and large employers. The simple answer on why there is no record of these claims is that most mass hiring includes line-level or low-skill workers, which typically means low wage positions. This employee base may not have the knowledge or resources to hire an attorney when faced with a situation that could induce a promissory estoppel cause of action. That being said, what if a large group of affected individuals, as described in the situation above, were able to communicate and organize themselves to file a claim? Could a class action suit be initiated?
While conducting interviews of other HR professionals, I found it is rare that a company engaged in mass hiring does not find alternate solutions when faced with delays in start dates. Alternatives may include hiring as scheduled then reducing hours or training at other locations or taking similar options as the above situation. Overall, while most HR professionals were not familiar with the doctrine of promissory estoppel, when faced with delays in mass hiring, they felt it was the “right thing to do” for the company, its employees, and reputation to compensate new hires or continue with the hiring schedule as planned.
In the Thick of It © 2023 by Tara Spracklen is licensed under CC BY 4.0. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/