Winner of cruise is entitled to it but could lose job if she goes overboard



I have a friend who works in the sales department of a small, privately owned business. The owners/managers distributed a written memo to the sales staff about an incentive program that allowed an employee with the highest sales in a three-month period to win a free cruise. My friend came in first. But after all the excitement, the company now says it can't afford the prize because of finances. Does she have any recourse?

Getting out of the cruise business might not be so easy for the company.

If your friend decides to sue, "she has solid legal grounds to collect the cruise vacation she's clearly earned," said Sheree Donath, senior associate at Sklover & Associates, an employment-law firm in New York City.

Donath said your friend's dispute would focus on four conditions: Was the cruise vacation offer authorized? Was the offer clear and definite? Did the employee accept it? And did the offer require an employee to give more than the usual effort? The answer to each question is a resounding "yes," Donath said.

"The incentive program offer was clearly within the owners' authority to initiate, and was clear and definite enough to constitute a legally binding offer," she said.

That takes care of the first two conditions. The third condition is satisfied because the employee had to accept the offer to attain the goal, Donath said. As for the last condition, "extra effort was presumably necessary to reach the goal," she said.

"The result is a legal obligation to deliver the promised reward," she said.

Your friend still should proceed with caution in trying to collect it. Demanding the prize could result in your friend losing her job, because companies can generally fire employees for no reason at all if they are not covered by a contract. So the lawyer suggests that she send an e-mail to the employer outlining what happened and politely asking for the prize.

As an alternative, she suggests that your friend consider telling her employer that she understands the company's financial problems and would gladly accept as a substitute such things as the opportunity to work from home a day or two a week, or an extra week or two of vacation.

Carrie Mason-Draffen writes for Newsday.

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