Making and accepting a job offer
It goes without saying that, for both employers and job seekers, finding a good match between employer/yard and candidate, making a job offer, calling off the search and looking forward to working together is a key junction for both parties – usually met with a big sigh of relief on both sides!
Sometimes, making and accepting a job offer can be somewhat rushed and not treated with the formality it really does require. Whilst it’s a huge relief to have reached this stage, it is by no means the end of the process! There is still time for things to unravel and go wrong, and sometimes badly wrong, which it’s why it’s so important for both employers and job seekers to approach this stage with care and to put aside a little quality time to get it spot-on!
Obviously, we are not legal experts, but we are experts in equine recruitment, so the following information is for guidance only. We always advise taking expert legal advice on your specific circumstances.
Make sure you both KNOW each other’s expectations
As detailed in Employment Contracts in the Equine Industry, under UK employment law, a contract of employment begins when a job seeker accepts a job offer, even if the offer is made and accepted verbally and not in writing. That verbal agreement seals the deal as far as UK lawmakers are concerned and all statutory employment laws apply from that moment, regardless of what is or isn’t in writing. For this reason, it is highly advisable that both parties are not just aware of, but are in full agreement and understanding with the other’s expectations.
It can be very tempting to focus on start dates, moving in, moving a horse in (if applicable), getting to know one another, seeing how it goes, all with the view to finalising the “small print” later on – especially when the written contract isn’t due until two months after the new employee’s start date! Some even adopt what can best be described as a “winging it” approach – NOT a good idea at all!
As experienced Recruitment Consultants, we’ve seen it all too frequently! For this reason, we strongly recommend arranging a job trial if employers and job seekers wish to “test run” an arrangement before signing on the dotted line. Once a candidate has handed their notice to their current employer, to find that the proposed new job is a non-starter can have serious emotional, legal and financial consequences, so it’s critical that the small print is finalised and signed off by both parties before committing to the future.
Get everything in writing
It may seem like a drag, especially when you’re making arrangements for the new job/employee to start, but it protects all parties if you have things in writing from the outset (typed or handwritten). If a job offer is in writing, both parties can revisit the exact details as often as they need to, and there’s little room for misinterpretations; “I didn’t realise you meant…” or “I don’t remember you saying that…”.
Conditional Job Offers vs Unconditional Job Offers
When an employer makes a straightforward job offer with no caveats, it’s an unconditional offer of employment. Once this offer has been accepted by the candidate, the statutory employment contract begins and both employer and employee are legally bound to it. It’s advisable that employers and job seekers do not make or accept a straightforward, unconditional job offer if anything is left insecure or not yet finalised. An unconditional job offer/acceptance cannot be reversed without risking potential legal issues.
If the employer still needs to collect references, proof of drivers licence, proof of the right to work in *said* country etc. then, to avoid a potential legal pitfall, the employer needs to make a conditional offer of employment. A common obstruction is that the candidate, quite understandably, doesn’t want their current employer to know they intend to leave until they have secured new employment. This appears to leave prospective employers in a quandary – if they make the job offer but subsequent reference checks are genuinely not favourable and they have to withdraw the job offer, they break the statutory employment contract that started when the candidate accepted the offer. The simple solution is to make a written, conditional job offer that is “subject to references”. This way, if the references are not favourable, the prospective employer can withdraw the job offer without breach of contract or any other liability.
However, a conditional job offer shouldn’t be used to leave an open door to back out later should the employer choose to, and a condition cannot be added to an existing job offer. The conditions have to be relevant and reasonable and it’s advisable that both employers and job seekers seek professional advice (for example, from ACAS) before making or accepting a conditional job offer. Once the conditions of the job offer have been met, it’s good practice for the employer to subsequently make an unconditional job offer.
To safeguard job seekers from potential losses as a result of serving notice on their job, the UK Government does advise job seekers to wait until they get an unconditional offer before handing in their notice, as a conditional offer could fall through. In this case, the only reasonable course of action is for employers to collect references from previous employers (where applicable). If a candidate demonstrates good job longevity in their current role, there is a good chance (although not always given) they will be able to provide a reference from that employer in due course. This needs to be a judgement call on the part of the employer.
You can read more on withdrawing a job offer here.
Work smarter, not harder
There is a less onerous way in which employers can make a job offer in writing without investing additional time on what may otherwise seem like a fussy and inconvenient additional process.
Everyone employing staff must provide each employee with a Written Statement of Employment Particulars (the written part of the employment contract) within two months of starting work. This may be one document or it can be made up of 3 parts, which can be given at separate stages before the two-month deadline:
- A Principal Statement
- Additional Details
- Terms of Employment
It’s can be advantageous to all concerned if employers prepare at least the Principal Statement in advance, and issue this as part of a formal job offer.
The Government states that the Principal Statement must contain at least:
- the business’s name
- the employee’s name, job title or a description of work and start date
- how much and how often an employee will get paid
- hours of work (and if employees will have to work Sundays, nights or overtime
- holiday entitlement (and if that includes public holidays)
- where an employee will be working and whether they might have to relocate
- if an employee works in different places, where these will be and what the employer’s other address/s are
Add to this any agreed details of:
- livery for staff horses and use of facilities
- the provision of accommodation
- particulars relating to staff pets
- Bonus or commission
- Employee benefits
- Privacy policies
- Details of any proposed job trial period
- Termination conditions (notice period)
and you’ve got a written job offer that doubles up as the Principle Statement to form part of the Written Contract of Employment Particulars, which employers have to issue by law. The rest of the Written Statement of Employment Particulars can be prepared later on (but must be issued to the employee within two months of their start date):
- Additional Details
- Terms of Employment
You can read more about the Written Statement of Employment Particulars (a written contract of employment) by clicking here.
It cuts both ways – always accept a job offer in writing
By law, employers have to issue written paperwork, but it’s also very good practice for job seekers to accept a formal job offer in writing/via email. It’s fine (and legally binding) to verbally accept a job offer, but a letter or email clearly stating that the offer of employment is accepted gives a record both parties can keep, or even print out for their records if they wish. This can also serve to avoid any misunderstandings further on. For ease of reference, we would counsel against text messages for such situations.
It never hurts to summarise telephone conversations in an email to all parties involved in the discussion. This recap gives a reference point within the process and can flag up any misunderstandings as you go. It doesn’t matter whether the employer or the employee sends the email, as long as someone does. If anything is unclear, or new questions pop in your mind, ask the other party and sort it out soonest – a simple call or email early on can save a lot of headaches later on.
For both employers and job seekers, simple steps can help avoid inconvenience or disaster further later on:
- Be careful that verbal communication cannot be misconstrued as a job offer or acceptance. Remember, the employment contract begins on a verbal offer>acceptance, not just when made in writing.
- Be clear on whether the job offer is unconditional or conditional, what those conditions are, and how and when to meet them.
- When a condition is eventually met, ensure an unconditional job offer is formally made.
- Ensure that everything has been discussed before making or accepting a job offer, including a notice period for terminating the employment contract – this will be applicable should the job offer/acceptance be withdrawn!
- For good measure, back EVERYTHING up in writing.
- Never assume anything. Always ask, and even seek professional advice if things are still uncertain. The ACAS Helpline is free to call or if you are a member of the British Grooms Association or Equestrian Employers Association you have specific help on hand for these matters.
Sometimes things don’t work out no matter how much care and preparation everyone invests, but both employers and job seekers must appreciate that withdrawing a job offer or acceptance must never be undertaken lightly. Always be mindful of the enormity to the other party – in many cases, a last-minute reversal has consequences to the other party. When something occurs that is unavoidable or insurmountable, withdrawing a job offer/acceptance must be treated with the same care and consideration as presenting it. You can read more about withdrawing a job offer/acceptance by clicking here.
Visit the ACAS website to download templates for putting a job offer in writing by clicking here.
Sources and further reading:
Conditional Job Offers: Blocks Solicitors
Putting a Job Offer in writing: Workable
Using the Principal Statement as a Formal Offer of Employment: UK Government Website