Can an Employer Rescind My Job Offer?
You’ve lined up a job offer, negotiated a fair salary, and signed your offer letter. It should all be smooth sailing from here, right?
Well, hopefully. However, employers have been known to rescind job offers. It’s not common, but it does happen. Obviously, this presents unexpected hardships for workers who may have resigned from their current role or even made plans to relocate for a new position.
If you’ve found yourself in the position of losing a job before you even started it, you might be wondering about your options. Do you have legal protections against revoked job offers—and if not, what can you do to protect yourself now and in the future?
Can an Employer Rescind a Job Offer?
Generally, employers can rescind a job offer without repercussions. The majority of private-sector workers in the U.S. are employed at will, which means that they can be terminated from employment at any time, for any reason, provided that it’s not discriminatory. So, for example, an employer could likely rescind a job offer because of a change in the economic environment, but not because you are a member of a protected class based on your age, gender, ethnicity, race, etc.
However, there have been cases in which prospective employees have sued employers for revoking job offers under the legal doctrine of promissory estoppel. In these cases, courts have decided that the job offer represented a promise under state law and that it was reasonable for the candidate to make decisions based on that promise, e.g., resign from another job or relocate to a new area.
An employment attorney who is well-versed in the laws of your state will be able to tell you if you have a case under this doctrine. You can start your search through your state bar association. Many will have a “Find a Lawyer” feature that allows you to search by specialty. Look for attorneys who offer free consultations and keep in mind that an action can be time-consuming and expensive.
Regardless of whether you pursue legal recourse, it’s smart to focus most of your energy on renewing your job search.
Why Do Employers Revoke Job Offers?
Even when employers can rescind job offers from a legal standpoint, they prefer not to do so. Companies are made up of individuals, and most people don’t feel good about promising candidates one thing and then going back on their word.
Beyond that, revoking offers creates a lot of headaches for the organization. If the role is still open, the company will need to invest more time and money in filling it. Plus, no company wants to get a reputation for pulling job offers. It’s bad for their employer brand, which can make it hard to recruit in the future.
Generally, companies will only revoke offers for these reasons:
The economy may be on the cusp of a recession. The industry might be experiencing pressures due to automation, financing issues, or the supply chain. Or the company itself might be undergoing a challenging financial environment. Whatever the specific reason, the decision-makers have chosen to pull back on spending and this role wound up on the chopping block.
Changes In Leadership
Even when economic times are good, restructuring can cause havoc in the org chart. Your role might disappear amidst the reshuffling.
Employers sometimes discover information during a background or credit check that causes them to rethink a hire. If so, they’re legally obligated to inform you in writing before they take action. You should receive a copy of the report that led to their decision as well as a copy of “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.”
Depending on state and local law, employers may have other restrictions on how and when they can use background checks.
Social Media Issues
In one CareerBuilder survey, more than half of employers said that they’d found something on social media that caused them not to hire a candidate. Companies may also revoke job offers based on candidates’ online activity. Regardless of your employment status, it’s a good idea to be cautious about what, when, and how you share your life online. Don’t give employers a reason to fear that you’ll be detrimental to their reputation.
How To Protect Yourself
You can’t control the economy or influence business decisions at prospective employers. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself from losing job offers, as well as minimizing the fallout from unavoidable losses.
Never lie on your resume, in your cover letters, or during a job interview. When preparing a work experience section of a resume or job application, be sure that your dates line up with what the background check company will discover. Render your job titles as they appeared in your file at your previous employer. If you need to clarify a role in order to demonstrate a wider scope of duties and responsibilities, add to the description under each role on your CV.
Choose Your References Carefully
Always ask before volunteering a contact as a professional reference. Be sure that they have positive things to say about your performance and achievements. Provide them with a copy of your resume and a sense of which of your skills and qualifications will be more persuasive to the hiring team.
Prepare for Any Challenges
If you know that you have issues in your work history or personal background that might cause a problem, be ready to explain what happened. For example, if you were fired at a previous job, come to the interview ready to discuss what you’ve learned from the experience. Note that you’re not obligated to volunteer unflattering information unless asked.
Keep Your Options Open
Leave every job on a positive note in case you need to return someday or ask previous co-workers for a reference. This will also help ensure that you’re welcome to return if a job offer doesn’t pan out.
Wait to update your LinkedIn profile and other social media presence until you’ve spent several weeks on the job. That way, you won’t need to change your accounts abruptly or include a job that didn’t last in your online presence.
Don’t close the door to opportunity. If an interesting job comes up, consider talking (discreetly) to the recruiter or hiring manager even if you’ve taken another job. Employers are rarely loyal to their workforce. Your first responsibility is to yourself and your career.
Know that most jobs don’t last forever. Keep your resume updated, your network close, and your skills refreshed. You never know when you might need to jump back into the job market.