Regardless of your age or occupation, receiving an employment offer letter is a big deal, especially if you’ve been looking for a job for an extended period of time.
A new job brings with it the potential for positive change and increased opportunities.
It is, therefore, understandable if you’re upset in the event of an employer not honoring an offer letter.
To help you navigate such a situation should it happen to you, I answer the question “Can an employer change your offer letter after employment?” below, and also list a few steps you can take in the event of an employer not honoring an offer letter.
Difference Between an Offer Letter and an Employment Contract
Before you take any action based on an assumption that a potential employer is in breach of an offer letter, it’s important that you understand the difference between an offer letter and an employment contract.
An offer letter is a short, unofficial document in which a potential employer offers you a position at their company.
The document provides the basic information concerning the job, such as start date, title, and salary, so that both parties can agree on the broad terms of employment.
In many cases, an offer letter states that employment will only commence if certain contingencies, such as a completed background check or drug screening, are met.
An employment contract, on the other hand, is a much longer document, in which all the terms and conditions of employment are laid out.
While the details differ from state to state, offer letters are generally considered less binding than employment contracts.
Valid Reasons Why an Employer May Rescind a Job Offer
So, when can a company revise an offer letter legally?
An important consideration to keep in mind is that most employment in the U.S. is at will, except if your employment contract states otherwise.
This means that your employer is lawfully allowed to terminate your employment at any point in time, for any reason or no reason, as long as the reason is not based on retaliation or discrimination.
In most cases, an employer is also free to rescind or change a job offer after a potential employee has accepted the offer.
An employer may opt to withdraw an offer of employment for multiple reasons, such as if you fail a drug test or criminal background check or have provided incorrect information during your application.
Other reasons may include a change in the executive team, budget cuts, or canceled or postponed projects and client contracts.
When Do You Legally Have the Right To React?
Although employers are protected to a large extent when it comes to rescinding or changing an offer of employment, the at-will doctrine doesn’t shield them against liability in all instances.
If you can, for instance, prove that the withdrawal of an offer of employment has resulted in significant losses, such as a loss of income due to a resignation from former employment, you may have enough grounds to request compensation.
You will also have the right to take steps against a prospective employer if you believe that your offer of employment has been withdrawn due to discriminatory reasons, such as race, gender, or religion. In addition, an employer is not allowed to rescind a job offer in retaliation, such as in reaction to whistleblowing, for instance.
What To Do
If you find yourself in the unfortunate position where an employer is not honoring an offer letter, here are a few steps you can take:
Take Legal Action
If you were offered at-will employment, the chances of you being able to take legal action successfully will be slim.
However, as stated above, if you can prove that a prospective employer has discriminated against you or has withdrawn your offer of employment in an act of retaliation, the law will be on your side.
You may also be able to take legal action against a prospective employer if you have suffered losses and damages due to the withdrawal of employment.
In such a case, you will need to prove that there was a clear and definite promise of employment by the employer, as well as a certain level of expectation that you would rely on the promises made to you.
Try To Keep Your Current Employment
If you’ve quit your job because of the new offer of employment, you may need to put your pride in your pocket and ask your current employer if there’s a possibility that you can keep your job.
While chances are slim that your employer will want to do so, asking for your job back can hardly make things worse. You never know. Perhaps your employer is having problems finding a replacement, especially if you filled a niche position.
Look for a New Job
While this may not be the advice that you want to hear, the quickest and least painful way to react to a rescinded offer is often to move on and find other employment.
As I have pointed out, the law will likely be in favor of the employer in the event of a rescinded job offer.
If you’ve asked your employer to give you your job back and they refused, ask that they at least provide you with a positive reference. This will make the job search easier.
Precautionary Steps You Can Take
Now that you know the law tends to be on the side of the employer when it comes to rescinded job offers, it may be a good idea to consider precautionary steps you can take to prevent the worst-case scenarios when you receive your next offer of employment.
First, it’s advisable to ensure that you’ve met all contingencies listed in the job offer letter before you submit your resignation, sell your home, or make any other major changes.
In addition, always make sure you read and understand all the information supplied in your job offer letter. If not otherwise stated, you can assume that you are offered at-will employment and should inform yourself regarding this type of employment.
Last, ensure that you’re well-informed about your potential employer and their company. If, for instance, it’s a start-up or the company is undergoing major changes, you may do well to act with caution.