In Edwards v. Geisinger Clinic the Third Circuit held that a health clinic’s statement to a physician and to immigration officials regarding a physician’s “at least three year” employment did not create an employment contract.
A physician took a job with a health clinic with the understanding that he must work at the clinic for 4-6 years to become a board certified radiologist. The offer letter stated that the physician “will be granted 4-6 years from the date of employment to become board certified” and that if he did not, “continued employment . . . will need to be reevaluated. The physician also signed a “Practice Agreement” in which he acknowledged that his employment “may be terminated at any time by either party for any or no reason.” In order to obtain his work visa for the position, the physician and sponsoring health clinic had to represent that the physician “had at least a three year employment commitment” in the U.S. Based on these representations, the physician was granted the visa in 2007. In May 2008, the physician’s employment was terminated and he filed suit against the health clinic for breach of contract. On appeal, the Third Circuit upheld the lower court’s dismissal of the case.
Pennsylvania law presumes employment is at-will and to overcome such a presumption, an individual must show clear and precise evidence of the parties’ intention to form an employment contract for a definite length of time. In this case, the court held that the language in the offer letter concerning employment for 4-6 years was “too vague to establish an express contract for a definite period” and such language simply clarified the board certification requirement. The court also held that the absence of an at-will disclaimer in the offer letter does not suggest a definite period. Further, the court found that the inclusion of language that an employer will discharge an employee only for “just cause” does not establish an express or implied contract that such employee can only be terminated for that just cause. Finally, the court noted that the issuance of a work visa does not guarantee employment for its entire validity period. In fact, the Immigration & Nationality Act permits employers to terminate employment prior to the expiration of a workers visa. Therefore, there is no implied right of employment for the full term of an approved visa.
Based upon the foregoing, employment at-will is still a viable concept in Pennsylvania and an individual must be able to provide clear and precise evidence to over come this concept.
Written by Emilie Ridge, Esquire