Can an Employer Take Back a Job Offer?

Question: I am an executive recruiter. I recently helped a Quality Assurance Manager job candidate get a job offer. The offer letter seemed to have a big red flag: it gave no specific start date. Then, an unusual amount of time was taken to do reference checks, drug testing, and the like. In the meantime, the job candidate gave up a teaching job, cancelled two interviews, and gave move-out notice at his apartment, all so he could take the new job.

Last Friday, the company’s HR Director called the candidate, and told him the job offer was rescinded. When he asked, “Was there a problem with the reference check?” he was told, “No, it was just a management decision.” I called the HR Director, and told her that, in my 20 years as a recruiter, this was the worst thing I ever saw done. She simply hung up. My question: even though the job candidate does not have the money to sue the company, does he have the legal right to sue?

Mark, New Jersey

Answer: Your question is a great one, and one that is asked more than you’d think. Though the laws in different states are all a little different, in most states the answer is this:

If the job offer was for a certain length of time, for example, one year, or two years, then the job candidate could sue the company for the time he was out of work as a result of what happened. But, if the job offer was not for a specified length of time – what is often called “at will” employment – then the job candidate can’t sue for lost wages. The theory is this: if he was an “at will” employee, the employer could have fired him after just a minute or two; thus, he has no right to a real expectation of keeping his job for any length of time.

As for the job candidate’s losses on giving up his teaching job, his declining his other interviews, and his apartment, he has little choice but to chalk them up to experience. The lesson is clear: don’t resign, don’t cancel your lease, or otherwise change your life or move your “position” without the certainty of a confirmed, definite new job.

Might I make a suggestion: tell the job candidate about our Blog – here he can learn many of the “difficult lessons” without suffering any of the “difficult experiences.”

Best, Al Sklover

P.S.: Job offer accepted, then withdrawn, leaving you in a bind? Consider our Model Letter entitled “Job Offer Accepted, Then Withdrawn – Requesting Payment of Losses.” Shows you “What to Say, and How to Say It.”™ To obtain your copy, [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!