The difference between an oral contract and a written contract is obviously the writing. A contract is simply an offer accepted by another party with the parties exchanging something for the promises of the other. In a typical transaction, someone offers to sell you something for a price and you agree to pay that price in exchange for the item. That principle is easy to understand, but the problem gets more complex when one party doesn’t follow through with its end of the bargain. Here is an example commonly faced by sports officials working at the amateur ranks.

An official gets a call by a local club coach to work a game at a specific time, date and location, for a specific price. On the day of the game the official shows up, but the game site is a ghost town. The official calls the coach only to find out the game was cancelled, and the official was the only one not notified. What are the official’s rights? Is the official out of luck? Is that just part of officiating amateur sports?

That may be part of officiating, but officials have rights in those types of situations. An enforceable oral contract was made when the official agreed to work the game on the terms the coach offered. The official gave up the right to spend that time doing something else and the coach promised to give up the money in exchange for the official working the game. The question is, what can the official do about it?

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The official needs to prove an agreement was reached. A “he said, she said” situation is not desired; something in writing can go a long way. Emails and text messages are great “writings” when creating an evidence trail for small-dollar agreements. For summer baseball, basketball or other sports, often the only writings reflecting the agreements for games being scheduled without an assigner may be via emails or text messages.

The official needs to figure out what to do about situations like the one described. Generally, it’s not worth the time, effort and emotional energy to take those cases to small claims court. Instead, an official can talk to the coach and show him or her the evidence relating to the scheduling to show what he or she owes. If that doesn’t work, the local association or the league will usually step in and mediate the situation if asked to do so.

Regardless of the venue you bring the dispute, an official will need some evidence to back up a claim. Here are a few tips so officials don’t get left holding the short end of the stick:

Get something in writing!

If you get assigned to work a game through a phone call, ask to have the coach/representative email you with the details, and/or email them to confirm the details. Email is great evidence!

Check a few days prior

You won’t waste your time going to the venue if a game is cancelled and you can save yourself a lot of time, money and stress if you know the other party will not perform in any type of agreement.

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If the other party does not perform their duty of the oral agreement, treat it like a game situation

Keep your calm and communicate with the proper authority to resolve the issue easily. Maintaining your calm will save time and save your reputation. People appreciate levelheaded officials on and off the field.

Remember, an oral contract is just like a written contract but the terms can be difficult to sort out. Alleviate that problem and get everyone on the same page by creating an evidence trail.

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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.

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