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Summary: got an offer for new job that pays 25% less money. Received the contract, but still don't want to sign it. Is it professional to walk away?


I got a job offer from a large corporation, but the offer was almost 25% lower than my current salary. I told the hiring manager that the offer represented a substantial pay cut, and that I was willing to consider an offer that was less than my current salary but not more than -10%.

After they made it clear they won't match what I was looking for, I eventually decided I would accept the offer anyway, since the position is super interesting and I would advance professionally.

I notified the hiring manager of my decision, and the contract was sent to me yesterday.

After further contemplation, I concluded that accepting the offer wouldn't be in my best interest.

Is it acceptable to decline this offer after accepting it?

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  • 72
    Just for the record, I would extremely strongly encourage you to walk away from any company that is trying to pay low salaries.
    – Fattie
    May 7 at 14:48
  • 5
    Does this answer your question? Is it ok to turn down an already accepted offer?
    – gnat
    May 7 at 19:21
  • 8
    Frame challenge; does it matter? "Is it acceptable to decline this offer after accepting it?" - What if we tell you, no, we don't think that's acceptable. How would that affect your decision?
    – marcelm
    May 8 at 10:12
  • 6
    @Fattie You don't know that they are paying low salaries... perhaps he is being overpaid right now because of the market, random circumstances, long hours, etc. Low salary doesn't necessarily mean bad job... they may have much better health care or other benefits so that the total package is equal or better but we don't have any of that info other than just salary.
    – JeffC
    May 9 at 0:01
  • 14
    Let's put it the other way around: if the situation was the other way around, they wouldn't hesitate to turn you down with no ethical or moral concern...
    – Laurent S.
    May 9 at 7:29

11 Answers 11

77

Regarding ethics, it's acceptable to walk away, for a multitude of reasons.

Firstly, are your intentions from the start were for you to reach an equitable agreement? I'd say that they were. You didn't harbour ill-intent. You may have misstepped along the way, but you didn't set out to mislead or confuse them.

When I think about ethical behaviour, I like to think "Will my behaviour cause them surprise? Will they have a chance to safeguard against my behaviour?". This is because we should expect that professionals should take reasonable steps to safeguard against predictable outcomes.

As it stands, they know you are very hesitant. They should be expecting that any surprises you find in the contract that are not to your liking may basically cause you to walk away because you have no faith that they'll be able to modify the contract to your liking. In addition, most people I know wouldn't take a 25% pay cut unless there were significant other factors at play.

In addition, what would also be morally wrong would be to take the job, knowing you're going to regret it and be looking to transition out at the first possible opportunity, usually after they have invested time and effort into training you.

So, if you heart is not going to be in it, the most ethical thing for you to do is let them know as soon as possible so they can look at other candidates.

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    I would like to add onto this comment on the ethnical side: It is not nice to verbally accept and then later decline. It creates a loss of time and effort from the company side thinking they have found a candidate where in reality it was "false information". HOWEVER, it is business after all, and the only thing one should rely on is written and signed information. The stakes are your quality of life and the ability to support yourself and your family. This is not a topic where anyone should go out of their way "just to be nice". A professional company will see no big issue in this.
    – Chapz
    May 9 at 12:07
  • In some countries, accepting a job offer verbally is considered the start of a contract. In the UK, "if [a new employee] accepts an unconditional offer and then changes their mind, the employer can: a) make them work out any contractual element of their notice; b) sue them for breach of contract". Source May 9 at 23:58
  • 3
    @DavidWheatley That's an unconditional job offer. Not an offer subject to the employee accepting the terms of a specific contract.
    – user125924
    May 10 at 2:33
  • 2
    @user125924 From what I can see, the unconditional part refers to the employee meeting any required criteria, not to do with accepting an offer's terms. See: jobcentreguide.co.uk/online-job-searching/37/… May 10 at 8:45
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    @DavidWheatley The fact there was a contract to sign implies that there was not a verbal contract in place, and that "accepting" the offer would be signing the contract. In addition, the standard notice period in UK is exactly 0 days when you're employed for less than a month, so it's rather moot. You may be able to negotiate conditions around notice period, but I doubt a court would uphold a verbal contract that modifies this. In addition, the question was a moral question, not a legal one. May 10 at 8:52
44

Now I want to reject this offer. Is it acceptable to decline this offer after accepting it?

You did not sign the contract, so technically you did not accept the offer yet. Once you submit the signed contract and get it countersigned by the organization, then only the agreement is sealed.

Right now, it's in evaluation stage - make your choice carefully.

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    In just about every common law system that I'm aware of (and certainly in the UK), signing a contract is not a required component of acceptance. In virtually all cases (including employment law) a contract doesn't even need to be in writing. Agreement will be determined from the conduct of the parties. Generally "This is my offer" followed by "I accept" (or equivalent actions) will result in a binding agreement. This answer is very much incorrect from a legal perspective. The question is whether it is ethical to renege, not whether you can do it legally (you cannot). May 9 at 16:33
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    According to gov.uk/job-offers-your-rights, it says A job offer doesn’t have to be in writing, and nor does the acceptance - but it’s a good idea for employees to ask for and give something in writing. Employees should wait until they get an unconditional offer before handing in their notice as a conditional offer could fall through. Furthermore it mentions If someone accepts an unconditional offer and then changes their mind, the employer can: make them work out any contractual element of their notice sue them for breach of contract
    – Mark
    May 9 at 21:09
  • 3
    "You did not sign the contract, so technically you did not accept the offer yet." A verbal contract is a contract, though. There are only very few things that require the written form, like land deeds. A job contract isn't in most jurisdictions. You can totally hire someone verbally. I would take the legal advice in this answer with a boatload of salt.
    – Polygnome
    May 10 at 6:56
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    @Mark I do not see anywhere in the OP's post that the offer was officially made verbally and OP accepted it. The way I read it as, OP wanted to proceed with this and as the next step, they asked to send over the contract (to be signed). So, unless that is signed, there's no binding contract for the offer, is not it? May 10 at 8:15
  • 2
    It is not a good idea to guess at the criteria for binding agreements by interpreting snippets from semi-related guidance and blogs. The criteria for a contract are well defined and established in case law. They are: (1) agreement, (2) intention, (3) consideration. Agreement is broken down into offer and acceptance. What constitutes offer and acceptance is down to the conduct of the parties, not a fixed procedure. If the employer unambiguously made an offer, and the offeree unambiguously accepted that offer then you have agreement. May 10 at 9:02
39

This has nothing to do with ethics.

You've had a change of heart and have changed your mind. People do this all of the time. Explain to this to them. Offer your apologies for any inconvenience and move on.

1
  • I agree. Since you've indicated to them that you're interested in becoming one of the team it would be courteous to tell them you've changed your mind. HOWEVER under these conditions you also have to make it quite clear that your decision is irrevocable and is not a negotiating tactic, since apart from anything else the company might structure its finances with a fixed amount divided pro-rata between staff and the perception that you were "looking for a bigger share" would be unpopular... I speak from experience. May 10 at 11:19
15

Would you accept the job if they offered more money? In that case, it does no harm to say so. It never does any harm to walk out of a negotiation making clear that you would reconsider if they change their offer.

"As you know, I would really like to take this position, and am prepared to take a cut in salary to make this possible. However, I've reviewed the impact on my finances and have come to the conclusion that I can't afford to accept the post at the salary you are offering. Thank you..."

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  • He has already done that and the contract he got was the initial offering, without any increase in money. May 9 at 13:36
  • 2
    @ypercubeᵀᴹ - worth another try, surely? All to gain, nothing to lose, except the job itself, which OP has all but written off anyway. And it comes over as 'up the offer or forget it'. Sounds good to me.
    – Tim
    May 10 at 7:44
  • @Tim I don't know, I wouldn't do it but I guess it depends on the common practices in the area/countryindustry of the OP. May 10 at 7:48
  • Not bad, but I wouldn't reopen the "if you paid me more" bit at this point. That card was played. Simply state "After reexamining my finances, I cannot afford this level of pay cut after all. My apologies."
    – Yakk
    May 10 at 19:37
7

Following up from your previous question, where the negotiation got off to a bad start after a unilateral concession, it seems they didn't budge at all when you informed them of your higher current salary. This means

  • You will be going in there on day 1 feeling underpaid
  • They know they can push you around in future negotiations
  • Your negotiating position with any other potential employer gets weaker in terms of money. Maybe the different work experience makes up for this in time. On the other hand you may give up other potential opportunities in the near term. You must weigh those things.

As others have said, until you sign the contract you are completely free to change your mind.

4

It is perfectly OK.

It's a non-issue.

Just send a polite email with these words:

Dear Steve. Thanks but I have decided not to go ahead with the opportunity at XYZ. Thanks again, Jane Jones.

Note that you should not explain yourself in any way. It's unprofessional and unbusinesslike. Simply state the words "I have decided not to go ahead with the opportunity", end.

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    Explaining yourself isn't "unprofessional and unbusinesslike", it's just not necessary.
    – JeffC
    May 8 at 23:57
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    I think calling it unprofessional and unbusinesslike is necessary for a good answer here. As if it's only "unnecessary" but not "unprofessional", then one may still want to include it for any reason (e.g., "for completeness", "just to let you know", etc.).
    – justhalf
    May 10 at 2:43
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    Guys - going on about an "explanation", as if it's a high-school romance, in fact just suggests that you're fishing for another offer and maintaining a dialog. If a company turns you down it's inconceivable they'd prattle on about their reasoning - you get a standard polite form letter, with no substance, wishing you luck. You should not explain yourself in any way. It's unprofessional and unbusinesslike - it's a time-waste and it suggests you're fishing for another offer.
    – Fattie
    May 10 at 16:20
4

Ethical? Acceptable? Those are two different things.

First of all, a verbal contract is indeed a contract when everything stays the same. It's the last part that's the catch. When the written contract is delivered it often has nuances, detail and even sometimes major items that are substantively different from expectations. If the contract is essentially what was understood when you agreed to accept employment then an argument can be made that it's unethical to back out. Take caution considering this if later you may be interested in obtaining employment at the same organization. They may not want to do business with you for specifically this reason.

However, it still may be acceptable based on organization culture and whether a verbal acceptance is considered tentative and non-binding. In my experience, it is not the case that organizations like this. Even if you cite unpalatable contract provisions, which is a reasonable reason to decline a contract, most organizations would want to talk about it to either negotiate or convince you to change your mind. Were you to hold a hard line ("I don't do arbitration clauses") or simply refuse to reconsider they would not look upon that nicely. Onboarding new employees, even in early stages, is costly and time consuming for the organization -- simply interviewing you cost them hundreds or thousands of dollars.

From a practical perspective their perceptions don't control your actions. Even if they could enforce it like a contract (maybe they could), no company in their right mind would take that approach. Also, employment contracts, whether written or verbal, are often considered non-binding. Just as they are able to decline to hire anyone because they don't like something in a background check, you also certainly have a right to decline their invitation. It's your decision, and they don't have a real choice in the matter.

Direct and honest conversation here is the best option. If it's indeed the case, simply tell them that it became clear as the contract was presented in writing that it would not be possible to survive with such a drastic reduction in compensation at this time. If they are a positive and upbeat place to work, they'll try to do something to sweeten the deal. Otherwise, you probably wouldn't want to work there in the first place.

2

You had a change of heart. If the rules of your jurisdiction allow you to walk away from a verbal employment offer, then you should have little worry about doing so if you feel the need to do that. It is not unethical to bring your change of heart to the attention of your employer. In fact, not to bring it to their attention would be the unethical thing to do, since onboarding someone new costs a LOT and they need to know if you lack commitment to the job.

I would suggest that a better approach than just walking away though would be to say hey, I'm sorry I rushed my acceptance and after further thought I've discovered that what I really need to feel comfortable would be $X. Can you offer that?

1

If they have policies that govern their pay, and you're not willing to take the pay cut then I'd tell them that you're really torn because of how much you love the opportunity, and having reflected upon it properly, you just can't justify the salary reduction and therefore you have to decline.

You might even suggest that if they can find a way to make it happen, such as bending the policy or making the job available at a more senior pay grade on the scale, then you would bite their hand off.

If they really want or need you, they may surprise you with a better offer rather than harm their business. Also remember to factor in any benefits such as healthcare, pension etc. and you could even let them know the least figure you would accept. But do your best not to get that figure wrong for a 2nd time because they have a role to fill and a business to run and it causes harm to them and to the other candidates if they have to keep messing around.

Also, in many industries it's amazing how often we encounter the same people later on so be sure to make it clear how much you care about them and how important it is to you that you don't mess them around unnecessarily.

1

Simple. If you leave them after verbally accepting a job where they pay you 25% less than you want, they are unhappy. If you accept a job that pays 25% less than what you want, you are unhappy.

It's better if they are unhappy than if you are unhappy.

-2

It's perfectly fine to reject this offer.

You can certainly reject this offer.
But salary isn't the only compensation.

you said,

"concluded that I would advance professionally more with a new company in a high-demanding activity."

Is that true?

Does the new job have much better benefits?
Would you be able to walk or bike to work? Getting rid of a car will save you $10k a year.
Does this job have much better prospects for promotion?
Is this job a change in job track or level of responsibility?
Are there terrible problems, like an abusive supervisor in the old job?
Can you afford the drop in salary?

Talk with them about raises if you demonstrate value to the company. Start looking for your next job.

What happens if you stay in your current position?

There are good discussions about the offer/acceptance process on AskTheHeadhunter, which is more about job seeking than headhunting. Most "Headhunters" are just resume collectors and add no value.

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    Asking a headhunter about headhunting is like asking a barber if you need a haircut. (And if the guy was any good as a headhunter, why does he need to sell books about it instead of actually doing it?)
    – alephzero
    May 8 at 18:51
  • 2
    -1, this does not answer the question as the OP has already decided on not accepting the offer.
    – SJuan76
    May 8 at 21:05
  • The OP accepted, then decided not to accept, now is questioning THAT decision. So it's fair to say he's still undecided. I want him to consider why he wants to stay in current job and whether he should leave it whether or not he takes THIS job.
    – VWFeature
    May 10 at 19:20

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