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Ask the Headhunter: What can I do after my job offer was rescinded?

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: I was given an official, conditional job offer. The letter stated that if I met the conditions of the job offer (and it listed the conditions) that the offer would be finalized.

I completed the conditions and the local hiring manager scheduled my start date. I put in my two weeks’ notice at work. Two business days before my start date, they rescinded my job offer, citing that I was not “rehireable.” (I worked for a company owned by this company over eight years ago, and it ended oddly, but I disclosed that I worked for them previously on my application.)

They said that the company is an “at will” employer, so they didn’t have to honor anything said in the letter. Do I have any legal recourse? I have no job at all now. Thank you.

Nick Corcodilos: I’m very sorry to hear this. Such stories about rescinded job offers are too common nowadays, and we’ve discussed this problem before. But it’s such a tragic problem that we need to keep talking about it.

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: Are disappearing job offers a new trend?

I’m not a lawyer, so you should seek counsel from a good lawyer that specializes in employment law. However, I’ll give you my thoughts with the proviso that this is, of course, not legal advice.

If you work in an “at-will” state, the employer may be able to fire you for any reason or no reason at any time. What that implies — though you should check with a lawyer about your specific case — is that they could complete the hire and fire you the same day. So you see the problem.

Now let’s go back to what you stated: You were given an “official, conditional job offer.” The word “conditional” is key. That left the door open for them to not make the hire after all. Here’s where it may get complicated legally and why you need a lawyer.

Did you meet the conditions?

You believe you met all the conditions to lift the contingency, but apparently they don’t agree. What you should have done before quitting your old job was to get a written confirmation from the new employer that you had in fact met the conditions. I can’t emphasize this enough: Never quit your job unless you are absolutely sure the new job is locked up. Please see “Protect yourself from exploding job offers.”

READ MORE: Why it’s risky to give notice when you quit

Of course, in an “at-will” state this may nonetheless be a moot point. But it’s up to you to take all reasonable precautions to protect yourself.

Did the hiring manager’s actions suggest you met the conditions?

The hiring manager scheduled your start date, which seems to imply you met the necessary conditions. A good lawyer might be able to do something with that.

Did the employer break a promise and hurt you?

Additionally, there’s the matter of whether you will now suffer because the promise of a job was broken. Retired employment attorney Lawrence Barty explains it like this:

A person who reasonably acts in reliance upon a promise and then suffers detrimentally because the promise is broken has a cause of action called Promissory Estoppel. The Promiser is ‘estopped’ from rescinding the promise if the Promiser knew or had reason to know that the Promisee would rely upon the promise to the Promisee’s detriment.

That is, if you informed the new employer that you were going to quit your old job and you lose your income, because you were relying on their job offer, then an attorney may be able to make a case for you. Barty goes on to say:

The Promisee in such a case, once the proof has been accepted, is entitled to be made whole. For example, if A quits his job and then is left without work for a period until he finds comparable employment, A is entitled to Reliance Damages in an amount equal to the lost wages and benefits.

Don’t rush into a big decision

Too often, job seekers are so thrilled at a new job offer that they make assumptions and move too quickly. That’s understandable. But when the potential consequences of making a mistake are huge — and losing your income is a huge risk — then it’s time to slow down and be extra careful about actions you take, like quitting your old job. (This is such an important topic that I wrote a whole book about it: “Parting Company: How to leave your job.”)

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: Is this job offer for real?

The critical tip-off in your story is in your first sentence: The offer was conditional. But please don’t misunderstand my position on this. While you bear some responsibility, employers who rescind offers so cavalierly are irresponsible. The tip-off about this employer was in what they said to you: “They said … they didn’t have to honor anything said in the letter.” That’s just unacceptable.

While the doctrine caveat emptor — let the buyer beware — certainly holds here, a good employer nonetheless owes a job applicant a big, loud caution about not quitting their old job until a new job is certain. And you owed yourself a more cautious attitude until it was all finalized.

Get legal advice

As you can see, it’s complicated and that’s why a qualified attorney is your best bet. I’m sure you’d rather not spend money on a lawyer, but I think the price of at least an initial consultation is well worth it since we’re talking about the loss of your salary. I’d talk to a lawyer immediately.

I wish you the best, and I’d love to know the outcome of this.

A word to HR managers

Rescinding a job offer is a really lousy thing to do. If your integrity and your company’s matter to you, please read the section “Stop rescinding offers” in the article “HR Managers: Do your job, or get out.” If you work in HR, we’d love to hear your side of this problem.

Dear Readers: Have you ever had a job offer rescinded? Did you quit your old job, only to wind up on the street? What did you do about it? How would you advise this reader?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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