Dream Offers That Just Lead You On

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Sunday, April 27, 2008

A job offer is supposed to bring relief after a long search, but that can be short-lived if the employer yanks the offer back, a prospect that becomes more likely in a struggling economy.

No matter how valid the reasons -- or how profuse the hiring manager's apologies -- a prospective employer's about-face still puts the worker in an awkward spot.

Consider this story, from Bruce Robertson, a human resources manager in Northern Virginia, about a man he interviewed recently:

"He had been working at a local company and decided it was time to look for a new job. He interviewed at quite a few places and was eventually hired at a local government contractor. He was very happy to be offered an increase of 30 percent of his current salary. He was told they really did not need him for over a month so he decided to give the typical two-week notice from his old employer and then go on a two-week trip to Asia he had always dreamed about," Robertson wrote in a recent e-mail.

"One month later he went to his new employer and was greeted by his new boss. The man greeted him strangely and asked what he was doing there."

Apparently the job offer had been withdrawn because of funding problems, but no one had told the worker. He tried to go back to his old employer, but his position had already been filled.

The man went to a lawyer, Robertson said, but he was told that there was no case. He couldn't collect unemployment because he had quit his last job and never actually went to work at the new one.

As unfair as all of that sounds, that's how it would work for most people.

Mimi Moore, an expert in labor and employment law at the Chicago office of Bryan Cave, said generally the only people who have legal recourse against fickle employers are those with strong employment contracts. They aren't very common, "except for very high-level executives."

Angry workers wondering if they can sue an employer for costs incurred as a result of accepting a phantom job, such as relocating, should know that it is "really difficult" to prove such a claim, and that the legal fees can quickly exceed the damages, Moore said. "Employers are increasingly aware of that potential problem," and they are trying to avoid it. "They're being a little bit more wishy-washy in their offer letters."

So what should you do if your new chair is pulled out from under you?

Some people get angry and figure they might as well let the employer know.

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