Once you’ve made your way through the mounds of resumes, completed multiple rounds of interviews, and performed the requisite background checks, the time has come to make the hire. While the actual offer should be made orally, the general consensus is that it should be followed with a formal offer letter laying out the terms of employment.
A proper offer letter outlines information regarding the employment terms, including the starting date, working hours, responsibilities of the position, agreed-upon salary, how and when the employee will be paid, what benefits they will receive, and so forth. Since job offer letters are legally binding documents, they must be drafted very carefully to avoid making any unintended promises. Otherwise, you could be locked into an “implied contract” with the new employee.
Here are a few tips to follow to make sure your job offer letters don’t get you in trouble:
- Avoid putting a formal job offer in writing until you’ve completed all your due diligence, including a thorough background check. You don’t want to uncover a felony conviction after the fact and then have to withdraw the offer.
- Emphasize that the person is being hired “at will” – in other words, the employment relationship can be terminated at any time for any legitimate reason.
- Avoid making statements implying job security. You can safely include the new hire’s starting date, but don’t make any references to length of employment. And whatever you do, don’t suggest that the employee has a long career at your company.
- Avoid stating pay in terms of annual salary. Such a statement could be construed as a commitment to a year’s employment. Indicate how much the employee will receive each pay period instead.
- Don’t send the letter until you have consulted with human resources and/or your company’s legal department to make sure you haven’t written anything that will get you or your employer in hot water later.
- Opinions differ with regard to whether the employer should require the new hire to sign and return a copy of the letter as a formal acceptance of employment. Again, ask your HR or legal department to determine what is right for your company.
When carefully written, job offer letters are a key component of the hiring process. They can head off potential conflicts by clearly stating the terms of employment upfront. Simply follow these guidelines to avoid the common pitfalls related to offer letters and you will avoid any legal ramifications.