Before I hire a new employee, I usually give that person a written summary of the specifics we have discussed during the interview. I include such things as pay, starting date and benefits. Now I wonder, am I creating a contract by putting a job offer in writing?
Depending on the content of your communication, it’s possible you may be creating an employment contract or documenting elements of an employment contract.
Keep this in mind: Every new employee who begins a new job has a contract of employment. Usually the terms of this contract are made up of overt and implied oral promises which a supervisor or manager has made to the employee, statements in the application form and in the employee handbook, and commonly accepted practices in the workplace. So anything about conditions of employment that someone in authority in a workplace puts in writing and gives to an employee can create terms of an employment contract.
Employers and experts in the human resource field disagree on whether it is wise to put verbal offers in writing. Advocates feel that there is less risk of a misunderstanding when the offer is in writing. Others fear a written offer will be considered an employment contract.
The value of having a written record of the job offer is that it sets forth a clear account of the situation for all concerned. It is a review of the previous conversation with the employee, it prompts questions if there are any, and it presents a professional image for the employer. This is not to say a written account of your offer is a guarantee of employment bliss. Nor is a document containing your offer of hire something you dash off between appointments. If you choose to use written job offers, do so with careful preparation.
Here are five suggestions to keep in mind when you put an employment offer in writing:
- Make sure all documents of this nature come only from a person authorized to make such an offer, such as the president, CEO, or personnel director.
- Avoid any language which may imply guaranteed employment, such as, “You will be eligible for two weeks of vacation next year and three weeks the following year.”
- Do not refer to “just cause” standards for termination.
- State the employee’s pay or salary in the lowest unit (hourly, weekly) rather than monthly or annually, so you don’t imply employment of long duration.
- Have an attorney who is familiar with employment law review your written communication before giving it to the new employee.
Also, a properly worded employment-at-will statement in your employment application is an additional measure of precaution when you use a written offer of employment.