Once you’ve completed the interview process and identified your top candidate, and the candidate has verbally accepted the position, it makes sense to provide the applicant with a written offer of employment. Write and send the letter after you’ve finished salary negotiations and made sure all details have been ironed out.
Depending on the timing of the letter, you may be making a conditional offer — subject to the employer’s background check and medical examination process — or you may be writing to confirm the offer after the candidate has met all requirements.
You’ll want to include the following basic information in the letter:
- Open with your intention to hire the candidate
- Clearly state the name of your company and the title of the position you’re offering the person
- Spell out the pay rate (more on that later)
- Note the expected report date and include the time, any specific location in the building, and who they are expected to report to
- Conclude with a space for the person to sign. You’ll want the candidate to sign the job offer letter and return it to you for HR’s files.
However, there are a few things that you need to avoid or word carefully.
The salary offer is one of them. Some employers have inadvertently committed themselves to a year of employment by offering an annual salary without disclaimers as to length of employment. Don’t describe the employee’s pay only as an annual rate. Use references to a weekly, biweekly, or monthly rate and also include the phrase “equivalent to $XX on an annual basis.”
Also be sure to include an “at-will statement,” language that informs prospective employees that no particular period of employment is guaranteed, and that the nature of the job is potentially subject to change. Don’t include any statements creating an expectation that employment is for a specific period of time or that termination will be only for specific reasons. For example, using the term “probationary period” to describe the first few months of employment or discussing bonuses the employee “will” receive at the end of the year can form the basis that the employee has a contract to work for a specific period. Similarly, references to job security or to specific disciplinary procedures can be interpreted to mean the employee can only be terminated in limited circumstances.
Avoid offering too much information in a job offer letter, or it may read or sound too much like an employment contract. Rather than going into too much detail about benefits, paperwork and vacation policies, tell the candidate to stop by your HR department on a specified day to complete needed pre-employment paperwork and any screening. HR can then distribute any handbooks, forms or other additional information.
Use phrases such as “generally” and “typically” when referring to terms and conditions of employment, such as benefits and company policies. These generalized descriptions are less likely to be misinterpreted as binding promises.
As a final precaution, have your legal counsel or an employment law attorney review the standard wording you use in offer letters for any statements that may jeopardize the at-will employment relationship. Laws vary widely from state to state in some areas of employee relations, so make sure that the language of your letters meets your needs, but also complies with your state’s law.
A clear, detailed offer letter should ensure that both parties understand the conditions of the offer and help to avoid confusion – or lawsuits — later.