A job search is rarely fun. It can be an incredible relief to finally hear the words: “you’re hired!”. Sometimes, however, those words are not immediately followed by a written employment offer letter. Should you start your new job without a written and signed employment agreement? And what if the employer reneges on his or her word? Do you have any contractual rights?
As is often the case in legal matters, there are two different answers to this question. The first is theoretical, the second practical.
In Theory, You Do Not Need A Written Offer
A contract can be binding (that is, create legally enforceable rights and obligations on both parties) without being written and without being signed. A contract is, quite simply, an agreement between two parties where both parties had the intent to create a legally enforceable agreement. An employment offer can be verbal and still valid, in other words.
There are some caveats to this general rule. Firstly, when you receive a verbal employment offer, the contract that arises exists between you and the employer (in most cases, a company). This means that the person who is verbally offering you the job must have the authority to bind the company to a contract. Simply put, if a CEO offers you the job, you can assume that the contract exists between you and the company because he/she would have the necessary authority to conclude a contract on behalf of the company. If the CEO’s administrative assistant offers you the job, that probably does not give rise to a valid contract.
The second caveat is that the law does not consider each and every verbal promise to be a contract. Both parties must intend for the verbal agreement to give rise to enforceable contractual obligations. It may be the case that you thought the CEO was offering a verbal employment agreement, but the CEO might be thinking he/she was merely speculating or discussing options.
These two qualifications do not take away from the fact that a verbal agreement is still an enforceable contract, under the right circumstances. However, there are several important practical reasons for not relying on verbal agreements.
In Practice, You Definitely Want To Have A Written Offer
The first obvious problem with verbal agreements is that it is very difficult to prove their existence and their content. That is why businesses run on written, signed contracts. Even if you do have a legally enforceable verbal employment offer, how will you go about enforcing it if the employer changes his or her mind? You would need to litigate the matter, and prove, on a balance of probabilities, that the agreement exists and what its content is. This is nearly impossible in practice. The result is that it is probably not wise to rely solely on a verbal agreement.
Secondly: a verbal employment offer will necessarily be vague and less detailed than a written employment offer letter. Even if the verbal offer told you what your salary will be, it probably did not go into detail about your expected hours, healthcare or other benefits, sick leave, other forms of remuneration, performance requirements, and conditions for termination.
This is the most important reason to insist on a written employment offer letter: you want to know about, and negotiate if necessary, all the terms in your employment agreement. If you start working based on a verbal agreement, you signal that you’ve accepted their terms (even if you didn’t know what they are). That becomes very difficult to re-negotiate down the line.
How To Ask For A Written Offer
Your situation will of course depend on your unique circumstances and the extent to which you know and trust your potential employer. If you do start working without having a written offer and employment agreement, however, you are relying on just that: trust.
If you do not feel in a position to gamble on your feeling of trust, ask for a written offer. Try something along the lines of: “Thank you so much, I am really excited to start this new job. When would you be able to provide me with a written offer so that I can look it over and be sure that I get all the details right?”. In most cases, your future employer will happily oblige.
LawTrades: Employment Law For Employees and Employers
At LawTrades, we believe legal advice should be accessible, affordable, and to the point. Whether you are an employee in need of some legal expertise to help you understand or negotiate your employment agreement; or an employer looking for a simple, seamless solution to all your labor and employment law needs, we can help. Get in contact with our team today!