“Job offer rescinded after I quit my other job; are they liable?”

Question: I was offered employment in writing, a start date, and wage was included in the letter. It was signed by the Regional HR Manager.

I quit my current job to start the new one. The day before the start date I was told that the offer was made in error, that corporate approval was not received first. I am now jobless.

Are they liable?

Apple Valley, California

Answer: David, your experience is far more common than you might think. Here are my thoughts and suggestions:

A. Historically, the general rule has always been that employers are not liable for withdrawn job offers. As a general rule of law, where neither side of the “contract” had begun “performing” its duties, then the “contract” is usually considered unenforceable. Additionally, if your offer letter did not provide you with a minimum length of time that you were going to be employed, then the law says, “The employer could have halted the relation after just a few seconds or minutes.” For this reason, it has always been held, you had no reasonable expectation to believe that you would be kept on board for more than, say, a minute of employment. Thus, the theory of “broken promise” or “breach of contract” has never provided relief for employees who have suffered in this way.

B. However, in more and more states – including California – it is becoming possible to hold employers liable for withdrawn job offers. Quite gradually, laws, judges and juries are starting to hold employers liable for withdrawn job offers. The theory is called “reasonable detrimental reliance,” or to use lawyers’ words, “promissory estoppel.” In at least one California Court, an employer has been held liable for an employee’s financial losses in this circumstance. (Toscano v. Greene Music (2004)).  In addition, a California law – California Labor Code Section 970 – gives employees double their damages if the offer of employment was done under false pretenses as to (a) the existence of available work, (b) the kind of available work, (c) the length it will likely last, or (d) the compensation.   

C. First I suggest you write and request – respectfully but forcefully – that the employer provide some recompense to you. As I quite frequently do, I suggest you do your best to seek recompense from your “almost-employer” for the losses you suffered by giving up your then-current job, and the cost of preparing to take your almost-new job. I am a big believer in asking before threatening, as it is so often more effective and less expensive. So often people overlook this possible way to getting what they want, and proceed directly to lawyers. I’d rather people first try, themselves, to help themselves.

If you’d like to obtain a Model Letter entitled “Job Offer Made, Then Withdrawn – Requesting Recompense,” simply (click here). This is one of the very most popular Model Letters we offer.

D. If that does not work, then I suggest you consider consulting with an experienced employment attorney. Sadly, but perhaps fortunately, employers know that juries are not all that sympathetic when employees have been mistreated after having done nothing to deserve mistreatment. The specter of legal action sometimes is what it takes to get them to be accountable for their actions. This might be a course of action, depending on what an experienced attorney might suggest.

If you’d like to obtain a list of experienced employment attorneys in the Los Angeles area, simply (click here).

David, being “fired before you are hired” is like a double blow, because not only are you out of work, you don’t know why and cannot offer anyone an explanation for what happened to you. I hope you will not hesitate to stand up and, in effect, ask your almost-employer to act in a “stand up” fashion.

I hope this is helpful. Thanks for writing in. Please consider subscribing to our Blog – you get daily posts and it’s free. And, too, please consider clicking to and using our advertisers; that’s what keeps us here.   

Al Sklover

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.