There is a longstanding legal doctrine (called either equitable or promissory estoppel, depending on the specific facts) that boils down to this: if one person represents something to another, and the second person detrimentally relies on that information, the first person is liable as if that statement were true, even if it was not.
For example, courts have held that employers who represent to their employees that they have protection against age discrimination are entitled to the benefits of that protection even if they would not otherwise get the protection under Title VII.
For example, suppose an employer has 12 employees. Title VII is not applicable to employers with less than fifteen employees (although state law often applies to employers with fewer employees). If the employer tells its employees that they are protected under Title VII, the employer may still be liable, despite not meeting Title VII’s fifteen-employee threshold.
This is also true in similar instances---such as those regarding the 50-employee threshold of the Family Medical Leave Act, or COBRA’s 20-employee threshold.
Employers should be sure to not just accurately represent the law to employees, but to accurately represent the law as it applies to them. If not, they could face liability in cases where they otherwise would not.
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