Friday, April 16, 2010

Selling Your Soul... Literally

Employment law is comprised of many things. Statutes, like Title VII and the ADEA. Case law, like Ricci and Gross. But at the very heart of our generally free market system, specifically as it pertains to employment, is the good old-fashioned contract.

Often employees don't even realize what they're getting into. Didn't you read the contract? ("Well, I looked at it..."). Do you know your employer's policy on such-and-such? ("I think I have some handbook from my first day..."). At this point, I'll stop to note that employers don't always know what's in the handbook, offer letters, supplemental agreements, and so on. Yet, these things regularly come up in Unemployment Compensation hearings and civil litigation.

With that being said, know your contract! FoxNews reports, not-so-shockingly, that not everyone reads their contracts. Especially online contracts. A British video game retailer added the following clause to its online order agreement:
By placing an order via this Web site on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from gamesation.co.uk or one of its duly authorised minions.
Apparently, 7500 people accepted the terms of the contract and effectively sold their souls!

Now, a claim on someone's soul is not actually enforceable under U.S. law (I'm fairly certain that includes all states as well). But other clauses, very much enforceable, may be in there (ex. binding arbitration agreements). Employers need to know what's in their contract so they don't inadvertently generate litigation through breach claims. Employees need to make sure they're not selling their souls... literally or otherwise.

Posted by Philip Miles, an employment lawyer with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania.