"We're pleased to offer you a position with us," are coveted words for any ardent job seeker, while the dreaded words, "We unfortunately will have to withdraw our offer of employment," are almost too awful for a pavement pounder to fathom. Anyone who has heard them probably feels at a loss, but in this present economy, and with access to your social media profiles – and therefore, access to incriminating bits about you – at many hiring managers' fingertips, those latter words might not be so mythic. Here are some answers to the first flurry of questions to enter your mind if your job offer is revoked, plus proactive steps to stay a positive job candidate.
May I ask why? Yes, you can, and you should. There's no guarantee that the employer will tell the truth, but he or she might. "After the initial shock, you want to have a conversation with the employer where you find out why," says Vicki Salemi, a human resources expert and author of "Big Career in the Big City." "Maybe budgets were slashed, or maybe hiring for a position was put on hold."
However, "Don't always assume that the reason [for the revoked offer] is them," says Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert. "It might be that they found out something during a reference check or background report that they didn't like. It's possible that you did something they didn't like. They might not tell you the truth, but if they do, it could be a lesson for the future."
Do I have any legal options? According to Brian Waerig, an employment attorney with the Wayne, Pa.-based firm Susanin, Widman & Brennan, PC, it depends on a variety of issues. If you think your offer was revoked based on protected classes such as race, nationality, religion, age, gender and/or disability, you may want to consult with a lawyer. "There's a lot of gray area when it comes to the Americans with Disabilities Act," Waerig says. "If an employer extends a conditional offer of employment contingent on how well a potential employee performs on a medical exam, and the employee fails the exam, the employer may decide to take the offer back and claim that there's no way for that employee to perform the job safely or perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation. That employee might have a claim under the ADA, though, that there is a way for them to perform the job safely and effectively and that they were discriminated against."
If an employer tells you the offer was withdrawn based on your failure to pass a background and/or credit check, you might also have a claim, depending on what was found on your report, how recently an incident on your report had occurred and how that incident relates to the job you were offered. "In Pennsylvania, felony or misdemeanor convictions may be considered by the employer, only to the extent to which they relate to the applicant's suitability to perform the job for which he has applied," Waerig explains. "So say you were applying to be a bank teller, and your background check reveals you've had a recent theft conviction. An employer could decide they don't want to hire you. But if you're applying to be a clerical employee and the employer decides not to hire you because you have a conviction for a DUI, you might have a claim."
You might also have a claim, depending on circumstances, under something Waerig refers to as common law, which is the area of the law that comes from judicial precedent rather than statues: "Let's say, for example, that an employer in the state of Pennsylvania extends an offer to an employee 'at will,' which means that the employee can be terminated at any time for any reason or no reason unless it is an illegal reason, and agrees to pay the new employee a salary of $80,000, and that employee quits her old job in California, sells her house and moves her kids across the country, at which time the company revokes the offer," he says. "A court in this state may look at that equitably and find that the at-will relationship was altered and an implied employment contract exists between the parties."