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8/14/22 - Get it in writing! Why you need a written job offer

It may be an employees’ market, but your best bet for making sure that exciting job offer comes to fruition is to look out for yourself—ask for a written offer immediately. Here’s what to know and what to do.

by Mari Alvarez, MBA, BSDH, RDH 

To say I was overjoyed would be an understatement when I was told I was going to be the director of hygiene with an up-and-coming DSO. I completed a few phone interviews and even attended an upper management Zoom meeting. I then received a verbal job offer! I couldn’t believe I was going to be someone important; someone in charge. The company’s hygiene program was going to be mine to design and implement. I was thrilled for myself, and my aching neck and back were thrilled for me too. This was my opportunity to move on to something big, as well as use my hygiene skills to help other clinicians and offices succeed. The only problem? I didn’t get my job offer in writing.

The company sent me through hoops to find a start date. My messages and texts sat in in-boxes unanswered and even unread. It was a maze I never got out of. Why was this happening to me? Why would the recruiter, CFO, and a current hygienist tell me they were excited to have me on their team? I was ghosted and back at step one, but I moved on and pursued other jobs and projects. It was a painful learning experience, but I took time to calm my emotions. I reflected on the mistake I made of failing to ask for a written job offer, and I will never make that mistake again. Afterward, I began brainstorming, and thought about all the content that should be included in a written job offer.

What a written offer should look like
First and foremost, a written job offer diminishes miscommunication and misunderstandings of several aspects of a new job. Let’s begin with the basics: the document should include a start date, job title, pay, location, responsibilities, if it's full time or part time, and hours. Other specific aspects might be included in an employee contract rather than a job offer, but having more clarification is in the employee’s best interest. Before moving on and finalizing the employee contract, it never hurts to press deeper and inquire about benefits, vacation days, sick days, parental leave, a raise after a probation period, and so forth. In the dental field, it’s also a good idea to discuss details regarding scrub allowance, continuing education courses, and even a bonus structure.

Points to reduce uncertainty
The job offer can also be used as a future reference if terms that were agreed upon are not met in the employee contract. If an $85K annual salary was discussed verbally but the employee contract states $75K, that is a clear miscommunication. Monetary disputes may not be the best way to begin an employer-employee relationship, and for most people it’s typically a difficult topic to discuss. A written job offer bridges that gap to hopefully avoid difficult situations. Additionally, a verbal job offer without a written one can lead to a future employee’s easy acceptance of terms the company provides. This leaves no room to negotiate salary or other important items.

I have a colleague who was able to arrange a higher salary with her employer to compensate for a lack of benefits offered. She received her salary expectations in writing to eliminate uncertainty while moving on to the next step of the hiring process.

Keep in mind that written job offers are not set in stone and aren’t considered legally binding documents like an employment contract is. Even so, a written offer shows the integrity of the employer when they state that they are willing to follow through with agreements. Think of the document as a genuine transaction. It’s not illegal not to receive a written job offer, nor is it illegal to rescind one with either party. For example, if you fail a drug test or background check, the company can easily take back their offer. The company can also have any number of other reasons to revoke their decision, such as an employee having a criminal history, company restructuring, or even changing their mind about a candidate altogether.1 In nearly every state, “The employment relationship may be terminated at any time, by the employer or the employee, for any reason or no reason, with or without cause or notice, so long as the reason is not statutorily prohibited or otherwise unlawful.”1 In other words, a job offer can be legally rescinded even after it has been accepted as long as the company is not discriminating against sex, ethnicity, race, creed, pregnancy status, and so on.1

However, repealing an offer is not always black and white. If your livelihood has been affected by the perception of beginning a new job, there may be grounds for legal action. For example, let’s say you moved from one state to another and were relying on the new job to pay for your moving costs and new living situation. You expect to begin the new job in a week and at the last minute, the company changes their mind about the job offer. You’re now living in a new state with no job and no immediate income. This might be a liability for a company.1 In this case, you’d want to seek legal advice.

You might have to ask for the offer
Just because you don’t initially receive a written job offer or must ask for one doesn’t mean that the company is looking to undermine you. It might mean they’re used to a more casual hiring approach, especially if it’s a small business. In some cases, receiving an offer in writing can be a matter of a formal versus informal business protocol.

Look out for yourself
Would a written job offer have helped me in my previous situation? In hindsight, it’s hard to tell, but it would have provided me with peace of mind. It would have also sent the message of wholeheartedness on behalf of the company. The document may have also made the company accountable for their actions and details discussed. Instead, I was left confused and with little esteem for those whom I was trying to keep in contact with. Did the company have the right to cut ties with me? It looks like it, but it still doesn’t sit well with me.

A word of advice: if you have an exciting job offer, don’t lose yourself in the hype, and remember to always look out for yourself. Asking for a job offer in writing can seem like a nuisance, but it’s a great way to ensure your understanding of a new undertaking. “Can you email me the job offer with all the details we discussed?” is a great starting point.

1. Rand C. Can an employer legally withdraw a job offer after it's been made? The National Law Review. 2019;IX(127).