Congratulations. You were just offered a new job. You have been provided with an offer letter/email and maybe even a new employment contract to sign.
What to do next? How do you accept that new job offer?
The Short Summary
Legally, all you have to do to accept a job offer is communicate in some way your acceptance of the job offer. There is no strict rule on the format of accepting a job offer in Canada. Instead, “acceptance” is an objective concept. If a reasonable person making the offer would have thought you accepted by way of your communication somehow, there is a deal. To that end, you can accept a job offer by merely replying “OK” to the email offering you the job. However, you will be asked to sign an offer letter or an employment contract in most cases. In that regard, your signature of such a document is your acceptance of the job offer. As soon as you have returned the signed document, you have technically “accepted the job”. An employment relationship has now formed, and you have rights as an employee.
Even still, below we will explain how to review a job offer and then more professionally accept a job offer.
The Law of Offer and Acceptance
The common law principles of “contract law” govern the law of “employment”. As a result, for parties to form an “employment relationship”, the common law requirements of a “contract” must be satisfied, including (1) offer, (2) acceptance and (3) consideration.
Concerning the second element, as discussed above, “acceptance” of a job offer must be communicated somehow to be valid. Acceptance can be verbal or in writing, but it may also be conduct on your part indicating acceptance, such as, simply, your starting work. Therefore, the format in which you accept a job is largely irrelevant so long as you somehow “communicate” your acceptance.
Keep in mind, nonetheless, in line with the law of contracts, you must accept an offer without any modifications, or else it will not be considered an “acceptance” but rather a “counteroffer”. The consequences of this cannot be overstressed.
Until an offer is accepted, the employer may revoke it. This means that if you make a counteroffer, your future employer can lawfully pull its original offer. In reality, for job seekers, this means that if you receive a job offer but respond asking for, for example, more money or more vacation days, your future employer can take away the offer and “ghost” you without liability. To that end, job seekers are cautioned against making counteroffers unless they are willing to lose the job.
How to Accept a Job Offer
Despite the fact I explained above that all you have to do to accept a job is somehow communicate it in generally any format, there are still things you should keep in mind to keep it professional and to protect yourself. To that end, I will explain some best practices for accepting a job offer.
You likely received a written offer of employment. It may be formal, for instance, a package of essential documents, or it may be informal, perhaps a simple email. Whatever format your job offer came in, it is legally binding so long as there is an offer of money in exchange for services (this is called “consideration”, e.g., element 3 of a “Contract” as discussed above). Other than that, there are no minimum employment standards about the format of your job offer.
When presented with a job offer, the first thing you want to do is to read it over once for the most basic of terms, such as the deadline to accept the offer. An employer can legally put a deadline, however short, on an offer of employment. If you fail to accept the job offer before the deadline, the employer can lawfully void the offer without liability.
Next, read the job offer once more thoroughly, this time looking out for the terms and conditions that will define your active employment. Typically, these terms and conditions are contained in an official-looking contract separate and apart from your offer, but they can be included in an offer letter/email too.
About terms and conditions vis-à-vis active employment, keep an eye out for these most common clauses:
- Fixed-term versus indefinite time. If the employment contract is for a fixed term, you can be terminated at the end of the term without any notice or severance; however, if your employment will be for an indefinite term, then you will be entitled to notice or severance.
- Permitted / Prohibited Activities. Your employer can say whether or not you are allowed to take another job or even whether you can take time for charity. Generally, most employment contracts will say you must devote 100% of your work time (i.e., your normal nine-to-five hours) towards your employer only. This may be a concern for you if you have a board position or a side-hustle.
- Confidentiality clause: A confidentiality clause specifies your duty of confidentiality to their employer.
- Intellectual Property: This clause generally states that any IP you develop belongs to the employer.
- Privacy clause: This usually says you have no expectation of privacy with regard to employer-issued electronics and email.
- Probationary clause: A probationary clause gives the employer the right to terminate you without any notice or termination pay in case you are let go within 90 days or less.
Also, it goes without saying, review the compensation clause. Make sure you are getting compensated what you expected. Even more, if you are expecting variable compensation such as bonuses or commissions, check the contract for the formula for this variable compensation. If there is no formula, be sure to ask for one. Otherwise, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise when the bonus comes, and it will be more difficult in case you ever decide to sue for the variable compensation you had expected.
Next, read the offer/contract over again, this time looking out for any terms and conditions regarding the contract’s “termination”.
Speaking as an employment lawyer, termination clauses are the most important terms and conditions in an employment contract. Very little litigation is conducted over “active employment” terms (discussed above); rather, most litigation is conducted over the “termination” terms. For example, what happens to your bonus if you get fired? Will you get long term disability eligibility for several months if you are laid off? How much severance will you be owed? How many weeks resignation notice must you give?
Many people ignore “termination” issues because they have rose-tinted glasses about the future at this stage. However, as an employment lawyer, I can tell you that:
- All employment relationships end. Employers make contracts with the sole goal of limiting your rights.
- Employment contracts can severally limit your rights upon termination.
- Employment contract clauses regarding termination can be said to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for a worker who makes about $120,000 per year.
With that all said, keep an eye out for the following termination terms and conditions in your offer/contract:
- Termination Clause: An enforceable termination clause can limit your entitlement to termination pay from over 24 months to just eight weeks. Here’s also where your employer can limit your rights to incentive compensation and benefits if you are let go.
- Non-Compete Clause: A non-competition clause prohibits employees from competing with their employer for a set period of time after they leave.
- Non-Solicitation Clause: A non-solicitation clause prohibits employees from soliciting or dealing with customers or employees of the employer for a set period of time in a specific geographic area after the employee leaves for whatever reason.
- Layoff clause: Without a clause contemplating a temporary layoff, an employer may not be able to temporary layoff you without “constructively dismissing” you.
After that, consider whether your contract only provides for the bare minimums regarding employment standards for such things as vacation pay, notice and severance. Many people would be surprised to learn that the Employment Standards Act is basically there to ensure no contract goes below it. For example, the minimum wage is an employment standard that an employer cannot go below. However, many employers, of course, go above minimum wage. A fair contract, therefore, will go above the Employment Standards Act for all other entitlements. A competitive candidate looking for a well-paying job in a good industry should not blindly sign an employment contract with bare minimum entitlements. Yet, I have seen that many people do so because they did not understand what they were signing.
You can contact an employment lawyer for a simple 1-hour consultation to review your proposed employment contract. Usually, this will only cost a few hundred dollars.
Lastly, if you have any questions about the job offer or proposed contract, ask the employer via email or with a quick, pre-arranged call. Here they have a duty not to mislead you.
Consider a counteroffer. Research comparable pay and benefits in your industry. If your offer seems low, it probably is. Most employers offer the lowest pay they think you’ll accept.
Before deciding to make a counteroffer, ask if there is any flexibility in the compensation.
If you decide to make a counteroffer, please remember that the employer can pull its original offer. To that end, only make a counteroffer if you can risk losing the job. For many people, this will not be an issue because they can afford to hold out for a better offer, but for others, who are having difficulty finding work, this could be a problem.
If you decide to accept the job offer, it is best to do so in writing.
Write a polite email (1) thanking the employer for the offer, and (2) say that you accept and (3) that you look forward to the job.
A nice note that is proofread and free from spelling and grammar mistakes showcases your professionalism and helps you start working on the right foot.
But keep it brief. Consider just following up the next day if you had any questions about the logistics of starting the job (but not if you have questions about the offer – those kinds of questions should be asked before you agree to the deal).
If there were documents that you were asked to sign (like a contract and an NDA), sign them and return them or attach them to your acceptance letter/email.
Sample Job Acceptance Letter
A sample job offer acceptance letter can simply say this:
Dear Hiring Manager,
Thank you for the job offer extended to me on June 29. I am delighted to accept the position. I look forward to starting on July 6 as discussed.
Please see the attached signed contract.
Please let me know if there is anything else you need from me before I begin work.
Thank you again.
Read More: How to Decline A Job Offer
Jeff is a lawyer in Toronto who works for a technology startup. Jeff is a frequent lecturer on employment law and is the author of an employment law textbook and various trade journal articles. Jeff is interested in Canadian business, technology and law, and this blog is his platform to share his views and tips in those areas.