Pitfalls of Job Offers in the Pharmaceutical Industry
By Patrick B. Ropella
President & CEO
interviewed the perfect candidate for your VP of Sales opening.
He falls neatly within your salary range, can start right away,
and you think you’re in the home stretch. However, if you
thought the tricky part was over…read on. Many companies are
finding out the hard way that presenting the right kind of job
offer, one that not only tempts the candidate into accepting the
job, but also one that covers the company’s liability, can be
During the past decade, there has been a noticeable increase in
the U.S. Court system of cases involving employment contracts.
Some employees claim they were promised compensation that they
never received, while others dispute grounds of termination. How
can companies in the chemical industry prevent such
misunderstandings and the costly lawsuits that can result?
First, you have to recognize and avoid major job offer pitfalls.
Second, you have to learn to prepare offer letters carefully so
they protect rather than harm you.
Three Danger Areas
Careless job offers get
companies into trouble in one of three ways:
The offer letter is regarded as
According to the Smart Workplace Practices newsletter, “Letters
determined to contain a contractual agreement and letters
containing no contractual agreement are for the most part
indistinguishable.” (There are some good offer letter writing
tips described later in this article).
The offer letter makes
In one case, an employee’s letter promised that the company
would pay one-half of his relocation expenses immediately and
the remainder after one year of employment. When he was
terminated before his year anniversary, he sued the company,
claiming the offer letter implied his employment contract was
intended to last at least a year. He won the suit.
The lesson is this: never make implicit or explicit promises
that you may not keep. Statements that merely allude to job
security or bonus assurances can be interpreted as contractual
obligations by the courts.
The offer letter contains information that conflicts with
statements made during the interview.
Your words can be interpreted as implied promises, even if you
never put them in writing. These seemingly harmless statements
have gotten companies into trouble:
• You’ll be with us as long as you can do your job.
• This is a company where you can stay and grow.
• You won’t be fired without just cause.
The problem can become especially troublesome when more than one
of your employees interviews a candidate. While Bob might not
have mentioned quarterly bonuses, perhaps Gail did. That’s why
it’s critical to make sure anything discussed is fully explained
in your offer letter.
Preparing an Offer Letter
The following suggestions can
help you prepare a clear offer letter, which may avoid costly
problems in the future:
Stick to specifics.
Include information such as position offered, location and
working hours, salary, benefits, and starting date. Whenever
possible, refer the candidate to official reference material
(e.g., employee handbooks, health plan handbooks, stock option
Write exactly what you mean.
Unclear writing is open to interpretation, and that’s when
lawsuits arise. For example, if the employee can earn quarterly
bonuses, describe all eligibility requirements. Better yet,
refer him or her to the official document outlining the bonus
Make sure company documents
Trouble can occur when the offer letter states something
different from other company literature, like your employee
handbook or your job description.
Indicate the offer is
Avoid phrases like “permanent position” or “direct employment.”
In addition, clearly indicate those factors upon which the job
offer is contingent (e.g., drug test, skills test, reference
check, background investigation).
Avoid dangerous terminology.
Most troublesome is language implying job security—phrases such
as “stable working environment,” “company family,” or “lack of
layoffs within our organization.”
Watch what you call the letter.
A Letter of Employment sounds a lot like a legal contract.
Instead, call it a Letter of Understanding.
Most states have employment-at-will laws that allow a company
wide latitude when it must fire an employee. To protect
yourself, include a statement that reaffirms your right and the
employee’s right to terminate the employment at will. Further
indicate that you or the employee can terminate employment for
any reason—just cause should never be a condition.
Ask someone to review the
It helps to have a fresh pair of eyes read the letter and look
for potential problems. Preferably, this person should not be
directly involved in the hiring process.
Of course, the suggestions above should not be misconstrued as
legal advice. It’s always a good idea to allow your attorney to
review employment documents.
Don’t let a sloppy job offer
cost you time, legal expense or your good name. With up-front
preparation, your offers can clarify conditions of employment,
persuade candidates to join your company, and protect you from
trouble down the road. Well-designed offers are a prudent—and
much less costly—alternative.
Please note: The information in this article is not intended as
legal advice. For specific feedback on your offer letters,
please consult an attorney. For more information on Human
Capital Management call Ropella & Associates at (850) 983-4777.
Ropella is President & CEO of
& Associates. With 20 years of experience Ropella &
Associates is an international executive search consultancy
specializing in the chemical and allied industries. Ropella &
Associates focuses on mid-level management to executive level
retained search in sales, marketing, manufacturing and R & D.
For more information on its services, visit
www.ropella.com or call Patrick Ropella at (850) 983-4777.
Resources for this Article:
“Avoiding Unintended Hiring
Contracts.” Business Owner’s Toolkit.
Blake, Daniel, J. “Be Careful When Promising Candidates the
“Job Offers.” Smartbiz.com.