A reader’s entire family gets seriously hurt by the fallout from an exploding job offer in the August 11, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.
A few weeks ago my husband applied for a new job. It took weeks just to go through the process. They ran a background check, had him take a drug test, gave him a start date, and told him when he would be flying out of state for training.
He passed the drug test and he was cleared on the background check. Now, my husband is a felon, but his conviction was 15 years ago and he has had no other problems since then. The company only went back seven years on the background check, so he saw no reason to discuss a problem 15 years old. Technically he did not lie. When they asked him about his past, he was honest and told them everything. Everything was going great. He had his dream job. I moved all of our belongings into storage and we were going to move in with family until we got the relocation fee from his new company to get a house.
The night before we were leaving my husband got a call saying he might not get hired because of the old conviction. Still, HR told him not to worry because he should be fine. So I drove my children to the new town. Then my husband gets an e-mail saying, “Upon further review of your background we have to deny you the position due to the severity of your crime.”
Are you kidding me? They gave him a start date, a date and time of his flight, how long he would be gone for training, etc. The hiring process took weeks and he passed everything. Then they tell him last minute — after I already started moving out our belongings that they changed their mind? Can they do that?
I’ve been doing all the moving by myself. I’ve gotten so sick from the stress. I can hardly eat, I’m breaking out in hives, my husband is depressed, my girls are crying because we were told he had the job, when he was going to start, and when he was going to catch a flight to go to California for training. And now — nothing. Now, I have to worry about getting evicted from my home and worry about having to go through this all over again. Is there anything we can do?
I’m very sorry to hear about this, but it’s not the first sad story I’ve heard about an exploding job offer. A 15-year-old conviction is a lifetime ago — but your husband’s good performance and reputation are current, and in my opinion that should have held sway with this company. But I don’t run the company.
In a column about a related problem — a reader’s DUI history — I discussed some ways to deal with adverse background-check results: Bankrupt & Unemployed: Will a background check doom me?
How an exploding job offer happens
I see two problems. The employer is responsible for one; your husband, for the other. First, it appears the company did not actually give your husband a written offer, but encouraged him to believe there would be a written offer so that he’d get started on his transition immediately. That’s unethical. They should have cautioned him that he should take no actions on the new job until they delivered a written offer. (This is another reason why I believe HR should get out of the hiring business.)
Second — and this is a mistake lots of people make in their excitement about a new job — your husband should not have taken any action, including moving the family, until he had a real offer in hand in writing. I know that’s hard to swallow. But it’s just not smart to risk it all without a written offer. If he had waited until all the contingencies were resolved, he’d still lose the new job but your entire family would have been spared such trauma.
What really troubles me is the number of stories readers are submitting to me about job offers being extended — then the employer pulls the plug with no consideration for what this means to the applicant. It really stinks.
What can you do?
If this job is in a state where employment is “at will,” there’s probably little you can do. An employer can fire you at any time, for any reason or no reason — even on day one of the job.
However, you still might want to consult an attorney about this. It depends on the laws in the state where the job is and on the details. A lawyer might be able to make the case that even an oral offer is bona fide. I think it’s important that the employer told your husband “not to worry,” implying it understood his reliance on the offer. It would probably not cost a lot to consult with a good employment lawyer. No matter what you learn, you may at least feel better knowing what your options are.
The one other thing I’d suggest is that your husband reach out directly to the hiring manager that wanted to hire him. It seems only HR is handling this matter. If your husband has any respect left for this company, it’s possible that a rational appeal to the manager could turn this around. That job vacancy is costing the company money. Some assurances and a direct discussion may lead the manager to make a new judgment call. See Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution.
I wish I could be more helpful other than telling you to be more careful next time. Since this is affecting your health and your children, please try to find some counseling. Your trauma is clearly very real. Do not let a lousy employer ruin your health and your family’s peace of mind. It’s important to be able to talk it through and deal with it.
Bad stuff happens, and sometimes dishonest employers cause it. The people at the company did not behave with integrity. The best thing your husband can do is immediately move on to the next opportunity, with a better employer. I wish you the best — I really do.
Do you have a story about an exploding job offer? How did you handle it? What advice would you offer the reader in this week’s Q&A?