California Employment Law
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First let me say that I am terribly sorry to hear that you are in this situation. From what you have said, you may have a few options against the CEO of the start up. Unfortunately, however, even if there was retribution by your current employer, legally, you would not have any grounds to bring a lawsuit against them. The courts have made very clear that they will not be the arbiters of general claims for unfairness or harassment that is not premised on a protected trait such as age (40 or older), gender, race, religion, genetic information, pregnancy, national origin, creed, or disability, reasoning that if workplace unfairness/harassment could form the basis for legal action, we would see thousands of such lawsuits every day. This is certainly not to diminish your concerns or complaints, but rather to explain the policy behind the law, which may assist with your understanding. Thus if your current employer wanted to prevent any future advancement as a result of this offer, they are legally entitled to do so. That being said, by making an offer to you, the CEO may be in breach of any oral contract you made with him. Even if you are an at will employee you could argue that you are entitled to reliance damages by relying on his offer of employment to be placed into the current position you find yourself in at your current company.
At this point, you really need to decide where you want to work. In California restraints on trade, aka non-compete agreements, are illegal and void. Thus, if you wanted to work for the CEO it is entirely within your right to do so and your current employer can't do much to stop you (other than argue that you are stealing trade secrets from the company and using them at the nonprofit) While poaching companies may be frowned upon, it is not unlawful in any way.
I meant to say the start-up above, not the non profit.
However, if you would rather stay at your current place of employment, you need to set up a meeting and explain in a calm and professional manner that you really like working there, and that you were just curious about the possibility of finding a way where your employment there would be the most beneficial to the company.
The good news is that most companies see the value of a good employee. The fact that you are wanted by another company oftentimes means that you are a valuable asset at your current location. Accordingly, you may be able to use this offer to get a promotion or at least a raise at your current location.
If, however, you find yourself in a negative situation at work, and the CEO refuses to give you a position at their company, you should consider speaking with a few employment attorneys in your area to file a reliance claim under a theory of promisory estoppel. If you decide to hire an attorney, a great resource is www.Martindale.com. This is a nationwide directory that is useful in finding highly qualified legal specialists in various fields of law. The lawyers in Martindale are not selected because they paid to be included, but rather because they have been rated by other attorneys as qualified experts in their field. Consider consulting with two or three different attorneys prior to selecting the one you feel most comfortable with.
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