Can an Employer Withdraw a Job Offer if You Counteroffer?

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You’ve just landed a job offer—congratulations! But what happens when the salary isn't quite what you expected, or the benefits aren’t all that great? It can be tricky territory, as no one wants to start off a new job on the wrong foot.

Beyond that, many job applicants are concerned that they might jeopardize an offer if they issue a counteroffer to an employer, who may just decide to withdraw the job offer.

When a Company Can Rescind a Job Offer

Does this sound like your situation? Take a deep breath. Learn more about the circumstances under which a company can—and can’t—withdraw a job offer and make a plan to increase your chances of submitting a successful counteroffer.

Understanding Employment at Will

First things first: chances are that the employer is legally allowed to withdraw your job offer. In all states except Montana, individuals are employed at will by legal statute. It means employers can discharge workers any time without any reason or explanation. Of course, it also means employees can quit at any time as well.

Unfortunately, that also means an employer can legally withdraw your job offer if he or she feels put off by your request for a higher salary or better benefits. So, if you’re not happy with the offer, take a little time to gather your thoughts and then move forward carefully.

Exceptions to Employment at Will

Several other states provide greater latitude in their public policy regarding exceptions to employment at will. In most states, the employment-at-will principle extends to cases where job offers are withdrawn under the assumption that the employer could fire an employee at any point in time after the hire anyway.

In some states, candidates may be protected by a legal statute called "promissory estoppel," which means a promise that is enforceable by law.

This type of statute can be used to defend a job seeker when he or she is negatively impacted as a result of a withdrawn offer.

For example, a candidate may have lost his or her original job after giving notice to their prior employer, or he or she may have incurred moving expenses to relocate for the new job. There are other exceptions that can protect applicants when a job offer has been rescinded.

Employers cannot withdraw an offer for discriminatory reasons, such as race, religion, sexual orientation, age, or gender. Also, if a contract for services has been signed, it will supersede employment at will and protect the candidate.

How to Successfully Counteroffer

According to a CareerBuilder survey, only 44% of workers negotiate salary before they accept a job offer. However, 53% of employers say that they’re prepared to negotiate salary even with entry-level candidates—and 52% say that they offer a lower salary when they first extend a job offer.

If you accept that first number, you might wind up cheating yourself out of thousands of dollars over the course of your career.

However, there is a right way and a wrong way to negotiate a job offer.

Do things the right way, and you’ll increase the chances of your counteroffer being well-received.

1. Do your research. Before you negotiate, make sure you know where you stand. Research the appropriate salary range for the position, given the job title, location, job requirements, and necessary skills. There are several free online salary calculators that can provide vetted information.

2. Be enthusiastic and grateful. Before asking for higher pay or better benefits, be sure to thank your prospective employer for the offer and express your excitement about the position. If you’re not prepared to make an immediate counteroffer right away, ask the employer how much time you have to consider the offer. Be polite and professional at all times. Smile and make sure the hiring manager knows that you want to be part of the team and that the success of the company is important to you.

3. Provide data. Also, you should be prepared to defend your request with reasons as to why you deserve increased compensation. Make your case based on data and remember to focus on how you can solve their problems, not on your financial situation.

4. Stay calm. Even if you're insulted by a low offer, don't show it and don’t say anything in anger. Instead, calmly and kindly explain why you’re making a counteroffer.

Be careful not to represent your counteroffer as an ultimatum unless you are prepared to leave the bargaining table without that job.

5. Know when to walk away. Based on your research, what’s the lowest number you can accept without feeling underpaid? Know this before you start negotiating.

If Your Job Offer Is Withdrawn

Despite your best intentions (and good manners), the employer may take the job offer off the table. If you do end up finding yourself in a sticky situation following a counteroffer, remember that you can consult an attorney in your state to determine if you are legally entitled to any protections following the withdrawal of a job offer.

Finally, consider whether you would have been happy working at a company that won’t negotiate salary, even at the start of your tenure. Although it’s tough to begin your job search from scratch, know that the employer may have done you a favor. You may find yourself much happier at another organization.

Key Takeaways

When Employers Can Withdraw a Job Offer: The majority of U.S. workers are employed at will and can be terminated at any time, for nearly any reason.

There Are Exceptions to Employment at Will: Review the laws in your area before proceeding.

Be Prepared to Counteroffer: Research salary ranges, make a plan to negotiate, and proceed with care.

Be Polite and Thankful: Even if you think the offer is low, don’t act offended. Always be gracious and professional.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.

Article Sources

  1. National Conference of State Legislatures. "At-Will Employment - Overview." Accessed Feb. 16, 2020.

  2. National Law Review. "Can an Employer Legally Withdraw a Job Offer after It’s Been Made?" Accessed Feb. 16, 2020.

  3. NACE. "Rescinded and Deferred Employment Offers." Accessed Feb. 16, 2020.

  4. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "Employees & Job Applicants." Accessed Feb. 16, 2020.

  5. CareerBuilder. "More Than Half of Workers Do Not Negotiate Job Offers." Accessed Feb. 16, 2020.

  6. ZipRecruiter. "The ZipRecruiter 2018 Annual Job Seeker Survey." Accessed Feb. 16, 2020.