“Can I ‘un-accept’ an accepted job offer?”

Question: I had accepted an employment offer three months ago, but until now the agency has no update yet regarding my visa. No contract was signed. Because of the circumstances in the middle east, I decided to withdraw my acceptance of the employment offer.

My question is: Do I have any responsibilities to the employer?  

Elsie
Cebu Province, Philippines

         
Answer: Dear Elsie:

I am not licensed to practice law in the Philippines, but I do a good deal of employment counseling for employees in many countries. In my experience, the situation you present should not give rise to any “responsibilities” under the law. That said, I think you might have certain non-legal “responsibilities” as a “responsible person.”
     
a. Because your agreement still had an outstanding “condition,” it didn’t bind you or the employer. Your letter indicates that there was at least one outstanding “condition” on your agreement to become an employee: the acquisition of a visa. From what you have written, I am not sure whose responsibility it was to make the necessary visa arrangement, but the fact that they were not yet arranged leaves both you and the employer “un-bound.” 
 
b. For a second reason – neither “side” had begun to perform its obligations to the other (you to work, the employer to pay you) – you really don’t have a binding agreement. Agreements don’t generally bind both sides until at least one of them started to perform its obligations to the other. This is what we call an “executory contract,” which means, “has not yet been started.” So, for this second reason, you should have no legal obligation to the employer.

c. And there is a third reason, too: the extreme change in circumstances. Your letter suggests that your job was supposed to be in the Mideast, an area of the world in extreme turmoil at the moment. It would be a very rare Court or jury that would hold you liable for not wanting to risk your life for a new job.

d. All that said, I do think you have certain non-legal “responsibilities” to the employer, and to yourself. I am a believer in the notion of “rightful conduct,” because it is good for all concerned. In each circumstance in which we find ourselves, it is always best for all to do what you truly believe is “rightful,” that is, what you would like others to have done if the “tables were turned.” In this situation, I think you have responsibilities to the employer and to yourself to: (i) Tell the employer, in writing, of your decision as soon as possible; (ii) Share with the employer your very good reasons for your decision; (iii) Ask the employer if there is anything you can do to remedy the situation for them, such as recommend a friend for the position; and (iv) Remind the employer that you continue to think highly of the company, and that it is not them, but the situation in the Mideast, that has made you come to your decision. I believe this will “do right” by all, including showing people who you may again work with in the future that you are the kind of person who they would – regardless of what happened – like to work with in the future.

Thanks for writing in all the way from Cebu Province in the Philippines. I wish you the very best.

Best to you,  
Al Sklover

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© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.