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A few months ago, I accepted a position at a company in another state. I've been preparing for the trip to that state for months now, but due to circumstances preventing me from finding an apartment there, from having any sort of help in moving down there, and mounting unexpected expenses and problems with COVID-19 restrictions, I've come to the heart-wrenching realization that I simply cannot start this position like I wanted to months ago.

Now, I am in the process of making plans for my immediate future - but this leaves me with the task of telling my once-future employer that I cannot take the job offer I had previously accepted.

At this point, the job start date is almost a full month away (it would have been July 22nd), and I'm not sure what the etiquette or legal requirements are for informing my to-be employer that I cannot start this job.

How soon should I inform this employer that I cannot begin working for them? Is there any etiquette or legal guideline I should follow?


Adding some context:

Note that the option to work remotely is not available - I would have to travel down to the site to receive a work computer in person, and would also be expected to begin working on-site two weeks later.

I should also mention that part of my hesitance is in realizing the obstacles in my way could prevent me from effectively performing my job - and the fear that the job may not be as stable as I had hoped, since I already have a job where I am.

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    Have you discussed the possibility of starting remotely with your future employer? There are lots of other people in the same boat, and many employers are currently far more flexible than they would usually be. – lambshaanxy Jun 24 at 1:16
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    But have you actually asked, or are you assuming? They can ship a computer to you, and if you're working mostly on it, remote work should be feasible. – lambshaanxy Jun 24 at 4:08
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    Regarding the main question, why would you expect any other answer than "as soon as possible?" More to the point: if the issue is legal restrictions on travel rather than reluctance on your part, why hasn't the company reached out to you already? – Lilienthal Jun 24 at 11:55
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    @Zibbobz The point I want to make is that it seems like common sense to me to just tell them as soon as you know there's a potential issue. Do you have a reason not to tell them? Is your goal to hold off on cancelling the job until some of the uncertainty is gone / you have other options? – Lilienthal Jun 24 at 13:41
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    If you've already decided then why wouldn't you tell them as soon as possible? – AbraCadaver Jun 25 at 17:24
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I suggest that instead of telling them you can't take the job you tell them the problems you're facing. Ideally, you would have some proposed solutions as well.

For example, are their people all working remotely? Perhaps you could start remotely also and move there when things settle down. Is your biggest issue finding an apartment? Perhaps they have some resources to help you with that search. And so on.

If you want to work for them, and they want you to work for them, then starting a conversation (when it's not too late) and working together to find a way for this to work even in "these unprecedented times" could work out wonderfully. And, if they can't or won't help and you can't move there, telling them so will arise rather organically as part of the process of trying to solve these problems. Don't lead with that, but understand that you may end up there in the end.

As for how soon you need to tell them, there's no legal requirement as far as I know. The more unexpected and serious your reason, the more ok it is to give short notice. If you emailed on your start date with something like "now that I think about it I don't think I want to live in your city" then you will be seen in a poor light. If you told them 2 months before your start date that you have to stop working indefinitely to care for a very ill family member, and that when this person dies you'll be in touch, you'll probably be forgiven (though the job probably won't be held for you.) In this case where you alert them a month in advance that there are problems, and demonstrate your willingness to figure out a way to solve them, I think it should be possible, even if you decline the job in the end, for them to think well of you, for what that's worth.

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    Computers can be shipped. It used to be pretty common to pre-configure and then ship them. If they know your constraints they may be willing to work things out with you. Or you and them can mutually agree that it can't happen. Start with telling them your constraints. – Kate Gregory Jun 24 at 2:02
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    The key is initiate the dialog and stop trying to solve all the problems yourself. What may be insurmountable to you may just be a normal expense item to them. You're not the first guy this happened to and won't the last. – Nelson Jun 24 at 7:42
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    Thinking about it more, this is probably the correct answer - and I am probably reluctant to accept that because of how emotional I was when first confronted with the realization I wouldn't be able to make this trip. So I will probably have to accept this, both on this site and in real life. – Zibbobz Jun 24 at 12:06
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    Fully agree with @KateGregory - my daughter just started a remote summer internship with a large company - they shipped hundreds of laptops to students across the country, all preconfigured to connect to the corporate servers. Now, they encountered various problems, sure, but generally it all worked out from what I heard. – Jon Custer Jun 24 at 15:46
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    @StephanKolassa The notice legally period required for someone who has not yet started their employment is almost certainly zero. The OP can hardly in any way realistically suffer unless they put the event on their own CV. Unless there has been some exchange of funds already, the company would have no damages to e.g. sue over. – StephenG Jun 25 at 1:40
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How soon should I inform this employer that I cannot begin working for them? Is there any etiquette or legal guideline I should follow?

The proper etiquette when your situation has changed is to inform the employer as soon as possible, so that they can make other plans.

In your case, the right thing to do is to tell them today. There is no advantage to waiting.

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    Yes, general principle — if you enter into some kind of agreement with someone, and you have information that materially affects that agreement, the good-faith thing to do is to share that information as soon as you have it. – hobbs Jun 25 at 5:24
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How could the answer be anything other than "As soon as possible"? You have made an agreement with this company, on the basis of which they are allocating resources and making plans. The longer you leave it; the worse situation they are going to be in. If this isn't obvious to you on reflection, then I think the company dodged a bullet. Etiquette or legal guidelines don't need to factor here: I would call it basic common decency.

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Your contract with the employer should usually mention a notice period.

However, essentially it is a decision for you. If you handed in your resignation and ignored this notice period it may affect relationships with your employer and you will be considered in breach of contract. Despite this, big employers tend not to sue for breach of contract because likely they can hire someone else quite quickly and won't have a significant loss from one employee leaving.

It is more of a moral question than a legal question and is really down to you.

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