What Are the Consequences of Withdrawing From a Job Offer?

It is neither unnatural nor uncommon to want to withdraw from a job after having signed the offer letter. However, depending on the people and terms involved, it could be looked upon as unethical, unprofessional, or even illegal. Much of the repercussions of rejecting already-accepted jobs are determined by how the candidate handles it and how the employers take it. If you are in a situation where you need to withdraw from a job offer even though you have signed the offer letter or contract, here are some things that can help you.

Valid Reasons to Withdraw From a Job Offer

Not all employers will take it well if they hear “You were just a backup plan and the actual offer I was waiting for finally came” or “I changed my mind, I don’t think these are good enough terms for me”. Scratch that. No employer would like to hear that. They spent precious time, money, resources, and effort on you. They would definitely be irritated.

So how can you approach this professionally? What are some good reasons to give?

  • An unexpected medical emergency came up. A family member requires constant care and I will not be able to provide that if I hold a full-time job.
  • My spouse has been transferred to another city and I have to relocate as a result.
  • I have contracted a medical condition/had an accident and is not in the condition to join.
  • A better job offer came through UNEXPECTEDLY at my dream company. 
  • My current employer has negotiated a better offer for me that will really help me in my life.

No matter what reason you give, always keep in mind that it should be foolproof. Remember, employers even in rival companies are connected and communicate regularly. If the hirer at the job you rejected finds out you joined another company after telling them you were in the hospital or relocated somewhere else, it would reflect poorly on your integrity and may even earn you a termination at the new job.

How Best to Withdraw From A Job Offer

When you are rejecting a job offer, it is important to maintain professionalism, diplomacy, and openness at all times. Here are some things you must consider:

  • Before even bringing it up with your new employer, check if you have only an offer letter or have signed a formal agreement or contract. The former does not entail many obligations, but the latter does. Review the terms of the agreement to ensure that there is no room for legal charges or damages. Although most employers won’t, it is better to understand what that might mean for you if they do.
  • Find out if any new arrangements were made or equipment bought especially for you. In that case, do broach the subject and ask to make reparations for it. Your employer may decline the offer, but it sounds polite and will soften them towards you. 
  • Try to contact the HR manager or whoever handled your employment offer. Going through the recruiter or contacting the boss directly, both can have bad effects. The recruiter has personal interests involved, they may shift the blame entirely on you. The boss, on the other hand, has a lot of things to worry about. To be bothered by the news that the money and resources he spent are going to waste might invite unwanted heat. 
  • Whether you call, email, write a formal letter, or approach directly, always thank them for the offer and decline instead of stating your request bluntly. Also, take a frank approach and let them know your situation. Often, showing that you trust them to understand and shifting some of the load of your decision on them (“I hope you understand why I am taking this decision”) will make them empathize with you. 
  • Let them know that you hope to stay in touch. Maintaining contact and keeping the door open to help each other defuses the situation and prevents the souring of the association.

Understand the Consequences and Do What’s Best

It is obviously your lookout to do what is necessary to advance your career. But rejecting an already signed job offer has the potential to undo it, be it as a bad reference letter, a chance encounter at conferences or meetings, or even a direct call. Consider all possibilities before making the call.

Viveka Batra

Viveka Batra

Human Resources Business Partner


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