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I signed an employment agreement (not a contract) with one company last week to start a month from now. I've also since received another offer for significantly higher pay, in a city I'd really like to move to, doing work that's much more interesting, with much better benefits and a work culture I like much better. I'm taking it regardless of the consequences with the first company, I'd be stupid not to. I'm not trying to re-negotiate, just let them know I won't be joining. What's the most professional way to let them know?

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    There is no professional way to do something unprofessional. Professionals honor their agreements. – Eric Lippert Sep 30 '19 at 16:11
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    @EricLippert Well, assuming this is a regular workplace employment, there is certainly a probation period, with quitting with no notice required. So they would be honouring their agreement. – Gregory Currie Sep 30 '19 at 16:15
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    @GregoryCurrie: The original poster stated that they signed a contract; presumably such an arrangement would be in the contract, in which case: the OP should read the contract to see how to proceed. I assumed that the question was "I wish to break a contract; how do I do so in a professional manner?" Is there a clause in the contract which says what to do in this situation? – Eric Lippert Sep 30 '19 at 17:59
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    @EricLippert OP plainly stated that they doesn't give two Schlitz beers about what's in the contract. Has not read it, will not read it, and wants us to answer anyway. shrug... – Harper - Reinstate Monica Sep 30 '19 at 20:21
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    As Eric Lippert said, it is unprofessional. On the other hand, it’s up to OP decide what’s worth more to them, being professional or a better job, paying better, in a nicer location. – gnasher729 Oct 1 '19 at 8:04
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It's not as troublesome as you may think, and I'm sure the HR department has dealt with quite a few of these over time.

First things first. You make sure your second employer is all on-board, and you have a signed contract.

Then you email your first employer, indicating that your personal situation has changed, and that you regretfully would like to terminate the employment arrangement. You then apoligise for the any inconvenience this may have caused. You should also confirm that you are not looking to renegotiate terms of the employment arrangement. Then you should ask what the next steps are.

They may want to know more. It's up to you what you want to share. But if you want, you can let them know that a really exciting opportunity has opened itself up in another city and you are at a stage of your life where you are really keen to give it a go.

Regardless of whatever it says in your contract, most employers won't want to on-board an employee if they are likely to leave at the earliest possible chance. So, even if there is a notice period of longer than a month, they are likely to waive it.

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    "most employers won't want to on-board an employee if they are likely to leave" reminded me of recent "how to interview person who won't get a job" question – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Sep 30 '19 at 17:54
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First check which is the earliest date when you may terminate at the company at which you already signed the contract. Try to negotiate a a start date at the other company that is later than that date. Then write a mail where you state that for personal reasons (you could also provide more details, but that opens the door for discussions) you have to terminate at the earliest possible date and that you are very sorry for any inconveniences. They may or may not take this well, but it is not unprofessionell, as you do not breach the contract.

However, if you have to breach your contact in order to start at the other company (e.g. because you cannot reschedule the starting date), then it gets much more complicated. I then see two possibilities:

First possibility: See a lawyer to find out what the consequences of breaching the contract could be. If you are willing to take these consequences, sign at the other company and then ask the company where you're currently under contract if they let you go. You may be lucky and they won't sue you for cash damages. However, it's questionable whether this is professionell and it may harm your reputation.

Second possibility: Tell the company at which you are currently under contract that for personal reasons you cannot start there and ask if they agree to cancel the contract. As they probably do not want to hire people that will leave soon anyway, they likely will agree. If they don't, you still could go to possibility 1. But if things go bad, you may not get the preferred job and you also made the company at which you are under contract aware that you do not want to work there.

So all in all you really should try to schedule the starting date of the new job such that there is no unresolvable conflict with your current contract.

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  • It should be noted that the lawyer will actually want to see and read the contract. Also there is no "press charges", the most they could do is attempt to sue OP for some amount of cash damages. They cannot force OP to work for them (we outlawed that in 1861), and no judge would block OP from working at the new company. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Sep 30 '19 at 20:24
  • @Harper Thanks, attempting to sue for cash damages was what I meant, I used the term "press charges" wrongly. I adapted the answer accordingly. – simplemind Oct 1 '19 at 5:21

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