“If I accepted an offer of employment, and then a week later turned it down, can that company sue me or stop me from going to a different company?”

Question: A company extended a job offer to me, and I accepted it. A week later I decided to take a different offer, and so turned down the first company. The job application form I filled out said that the job was “at will.”

Soon after, I received a personal email from the company manager saying “You may want to prepare for a breach of implied contract and damages suit.”

I’m about to start a new job that I think could be very promising. Should I tell the new company that I might have a “complication?” Should I respond to that email? Should I hire an employment attorney?  

         Marblehead, Massachusetts 

Answer: Dan, what has happened here is the “other side of the coin” from what usually happens. More commonly, it is the employer that changes its mind after the employee resigned from his or her previous job, but before the employee starts the new job, leaving the employee “high and dry,” and without any job at all.

“At will” means that either the employer or the employee can terminate the job at any time, for any lawful reason. The employer or the employee can even end the job one minute after it started, or even one minute before it started. Because neither the employer nor the employee can, therefore, have any reasonable expectation of a lasting relation, the courts in almost all cases say that there is no breach of contract, of any kind. Since there was never a commitment, there never could have been a breach of a commitment, which is what “breach of contract” is all about.

Your almost-employer is obviously upset. Maybe he turned down other applicants. Maybe he promised someone that you would be there to perform some services. Maybe he fired someone because he knew you were arriving. No matter what he did, he did it at his own risk, and without any legal right against you. The law is clearly on your side here.

But that does not mean that the company manager might not act like a jerk and do something stupid. Who knows? Even though he has no “case,” he still might try to sue you out of spite or the misguidance of a dishonest or ignorant lawyer who has convinced him he does have a case.

I would not recommend telling your new employer anything about this. It is not their business, not relevant, and not likely to come to their attention.

While you might consider asking an attorney to send your almost-employer a letter, it’s my guess that the company manager was just letting off steam, and that this will likely blow over. It’s like going on a date, and having your date stand you up: sure it’s upsetting, but not something that is likely to have long-lasting consequences.

You might consider asking an attorney for a letter, directing this man to refrain from contacting you, or saying or writing anything negative about you. This is commonly called a “cease and desist” letter.

You might also consider sending him an email expressing your sorrow for any inconvenience you may have caused. Just don’t “admit” anything wrong, and whatever you do, don’t tell him where you will be working. My honest expectation is that this will resolve itself.

Hope that helps. I’d love to hear back from you in a few weeks about what, if anything, came of this situation.

          Best, Al Sklover


© 2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.