Signing a job offer and then declining

  • Employment Contract
Contract Signing and Declining
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

What happens if an employee signs a job offer and then declines? This guide explains your legal opportunities and responsibilities should your business face the issue.

After all the hard work of the recruitment process, you have an ideal candidate and they receive their offer of employment. Once a letter returns with a signature, you’ll likely breathe a sigh of relief. But it might not be the end of the story. What if, between signing the job offer letter and their start date, the employee signed the employment contract but changed their mind? Well, declining a job offer after signing the contract (UK) happens more than you might think. And this guide takes a look at your legal standing with this issue.

Is there any action you can take?

After signing a contract of employment and not starting, the individual is still an employee. This is because a legally binding contract now exists between the parties—yourself and the staff member. But it does mean they can’t just decline the job offer after signing your employment contract. Instead, they’ll have to terminate the contract as it’s identified as legal. So, the process involves essentially declining a job offer after signing the contract letter. To do that, the employee will need to give you notice. The length of the notice will be set out in their contractual terms. Usually, for an employee who hasn’t started work yet or who has been with the business for less than a month, it’ll be a small amount of notice. You should ask for notice in writing so you have a formal record available (potentially for future reference). Even though the employee has never worked for you, it’s always a good idea to get everything in writing so you have evidence, again in case you should need it at a later date.

What else can you do?

If the person was your ideal candidate after a lengthy, and usually costly, recruitment process, you don’t want them to turn down your offer after signing the contract. Instead of accepting they won’t start, you might want to speak to them and ask why they’ve changed their mind. Is it because they have a different job offer? Have their personal circumstances changed? You might find that this is a negotiating tool to get them a higher salary. If it is, consider whether the costs of providing this to your ideal candidate outweigh the costs of recruiting again. Alternatively, if the individual’s personal circumstances have changed, can you make any amendments to the job role? An option here would be working hours—would a more flexible work-life balance entice them to join? The reason given may give you food for thought on a number of other areas, such as:

  • Reputation.
  • Culture.
  • Values of the organisation.

How to react to a rejection

 Along with the obvious disappointment, you might also think the person has acted unprofessionally by signing a contract of employment and not starting. It’s important to not let your emotions rule your response. After all, there may be a chance the employee could be looking for a job in the future. Additionally, with websites allowing individuals to publicly review your business (such as Glassdoor), you will want to avoid ruining your good reputation by saying something rash now. Instead, take the time to respond to the employee. Thank them for informing you they’ve changed their mind. At this point you can set out any further information, such as where to return any company information or documentation you require back. You may also want to let them know who they can speak to if their circumstances change in the future.

And if you were wondering whether you could withdraw an offer, ask Brainbox...

Need more help?

If you’re still wondering how to deal with a job acceptance, then rejection, you can get in touch with us for guidance: 0800 028 2420.


Got a question? Check whether we’ve already answered it for you…

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