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 with any negativity. 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.

Does this sound like your situation? Take a deep breath and read on so you can increase your chances of submitting a successful counteroffer.

Understanding Employment at Will

"Employment at will" is an important concept to understand, and, 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, that 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 In most states, the employment at will principle extends to cases where job offers are withdrawn under the assumption that the employer could fire an employee at any point in time after the hire anyway.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 This type of statute can be used to defend a job seeker when he or she is negatively impacted as a result of a withdrawn offer.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 There are other exceptions that can protect applicants when a job offer has been rescinded.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

Although the situation varies on a case-by-case basis, your best bet is to avoid a negative response from the employer in the first place. It’s not a comfortable way to start a new job, and the manner in which you make a counteroffer can impact the chances that an employer will react adversely and withdraw the original offer. Then you won’t have the job at all.

The first step, before you say anything, is to know what the job’s salary range might be in your location or an area with similar economics.

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. Go about the conversation with a smile, and be polite and professional at all times. Make sure he or she knows you want to be part of the team and the success of the company is important to you.

Also, you should be prepared to defend your request with reasons as to why you deserve increased compensation. 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.

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.

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.