If I haven’t signed a contract is the job mine?

Tue, 07/02/2012 - 14:14 -- nick

You've had a successful interview and were offered the job, but it's been some time and you haven't had a contract to sign. Is the job in the bag or not?
With large organisations and sophisticated HR departments, it's unlikely that this issue will arise too often, unless by good old-fashioned error or postal delay.
In small to medium sized companies, however, where management structure is less sophisticated, you can often be offered a job and be left waiting for a formal confirmation.
If you are really unlucky, it may be that your interview took place prior to an internal 'restructuring' and the company suddenly finds it cannot support your position. In this case you may find your offer is withdrawn before you've even had a chance to accept.

Verbal agreements
The difficulty with relying on verbal agreements as contractual terms is that they are much more difficult to prove as it will often be your word against your ‘prospective' employee's.
This can be particularly difficult if a period of time has passed, or if the relevant manager who made the verbal agreement has changed their mind, or even left the company.

Conditional job offers
If you are offered a job, you may be sent a conditional offer letter, which should state:

  • The job title and a brief job description
  • The location of you main place of work
  • Conditions you need to meet (satisfactory references and health record)
  • The terms (pay, hours, holiday entitlement, etc)
  • The starting date and any induction period
  • What you have to do next and by when

If you have received one of these, make sure you read it through thoroughly and complete everything that is asked of you. The delay in producing your contract could actually be your own fault if you fail to send them the correct documentation.

Unconditional job offers
If you meet the conditions set out in the offer letter, you should receive an unconditional offer of a job or position.
If you can, wait until you receive the unconditional offer before handing in your notice or rejecting an alternative offer of employment. You don't want to be left in the lurch by making your move too early!
Once you have accepted an unconditional offer, a contract of employment exists between you and your new employer. 

What happens if an employer withdraws a job offer?
If the offer's withdrawn before you have a chance to accept, or because you haven't met the conditions, you can't take any action - unless it has been withdrawn for reasons of unlawful discrimination.
However, once you have accepted an unconditional offer, and the prospective employer withdraws it, you can claim for compensation for breach of contract.
If you have second thoughts about a job you've just accepted, ask the employer to agree to let you go. Give notice as soon as you can - preferably before you start.
Your new employer won't be happy, and there's a possibility they may try to sue you for breach of contract if you don't give at least the amount of notice on your contract or offer letter.
If you are unhappy with an employer before or after accepting a job offer, you should first talk to them informally to find out if there's a way of sorting out the problem amicably.
The key part which completes the contract between you an employer is your acceptance. Bear this in mind and the process of job offer is a relatively simple and straightforward process and one which offers you a good degree of protection.