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Recently I received an offer from a (software) company. I read and accepted it by printing the contract and signing it, then sending it back to the company (2 copies). The company confirmed it received my signed contract (via email), but has been keeping delaying sending the contract with signature from their side. It has been two weeks. I tried to call them today but received an automatic response.

Problem: When they confirmed (via email) they received the contract with my signature, they "welcomed" me to their team (implying they're not considering other candidates at the same time). Because of this, I officially terminated the work contract with my current company, as well as sent my leaving notice to my apartment owner (the offer is in another city).

Yes. I made a serious mistake in not waiting until I have the fully signed contract before sending notice to my current company and apartment owner. So please, please not criticize me on this.

What options should I have right now?

  1. Keep waiting. But how long?
  2. Can I sue them to pay for damages caused even though I don't have the fully signed contract. Damages: I lost my current job; have to find a new apartment (without a work contract, it's difficult to find one). All is because of the confirmation email ("Welcome me to their team") after they received the contract with only my signature.

I think the 2nd option can be feasible because of their email confirming "I am accepted to their team". Therefore, I made the decision to quit my current job and apartment.

If I need to get a lawyer involved, which compensation for damages is typically agreed? E.g. 3 month salary compensation?

In the worst case, laws may just say: there is no contract signed (between 2 sides); thus, no wrongdoings here and the company doesn't need to pay anything.

The location is Germany, which is typically known for strong worker-right protection.

Any help/advice is welcome. Thank you.

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Update 1:

The company relied my email, saying that there were some unforeseen structural changes within the company. This, unfortunately, rendered some parts of the contract invalid (my salary and starting date don't change, though). As a result, they would send me a new contract. They assured me (via email) that I will work with them, and receiving the fully signed contract is just a matter of time.

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  • 6
    Did the contract have a starting date on it?
    – sf02
    May 16 at 16:59
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    @sf02 Yes. The contract has a starting date.
    – ow17
    May 16 at 17:37
  • Technically suing them because "you lost your job" is not correct: you actually quit your job. But, as Joe said, no need to worry much, call them again tomorrow. When is the start date that you mentioned?
    – DarkCygnus
    May 16 at 18:03
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    @ow17. They have communicated their acceptance to you, they sent you a contract to you, they communicated in writing to you that they're looking forward to you starting. You don't need to worry. You don't need to worry that you haven't got a signed contract back, it is not a sign of a problem. May 16 at 19:49

3 Answers 3

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I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice, but my understanding is that if the company sent you an offer, including a start date, and you accepted it in writing, then the contract is established. Any good lawyer will tell you that "offer and acceptance" is all that is necessary for a contract to be established. By sending you a contract they made you an offer; by signing and returning it you accepted it. Congratulations on your new job. Giving you a signed copy is a formality, which is why they aren't rushing it.

Your next communications should be about what to do on the start date.

I've worked several jobs in two countries (admittedly neither Germany) and in most of them I haven't had a formally signed contract before the start date. In all of them I showed up on the start date, I was onboarded, given work to do, and shortly after that a paycheque. Everything worked out fine.

I assume you kept a copy of the contract yourself. If not you should have done. If you don't have a copy, ask for one (signed or not) as soon as you can. In any case you will probably get one soon enough.

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  • They sent the contact (without any signatures) via email. I printed it (2 copies), then sent those 2 copies back to them by Post, because I need their signature to make the contract valid. They received the copies, and confirmed me that they "welcomed me to the team" (*), and asked for patience before they could send a copy back to me (with full signatures from both sides). It has been 3 weeks since the email (*) here. I called them yesterday but received automatic response.
    – ow17
    May 17 at 6:56
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    As I say in the answer I do not believe you need their signature to make the contract valid. The fact that they say "welcome to the team" means they are expecting you to start on the date in the contract. When is that date? Have you resigned from your current job yet? May 17 at 12:55
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    There's always the possibility that they have signed it, then shoved it in a filing cabinet for future reference.
    – Simon B
    May 17 at 14:26
  • @DJClayworth The contract has a starting date. Because of the confirmation email from their side (they received the contract with only my signature), I resigned from my current job as well as sent notice to my current apartment owner. That said, <3 months from now, I have to leave the current company and the current apartment.
    – ow17
    May 18 at 12:46
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    Don't worry about this too much. Do everything you need to do on the assumption that you will start on the date the contract says. Talk to the new company, but ask questions about the new job, where you should go on day 1, etc. rather can only talking about the signed contract. Show up on the start date. Enjoy the job. May 18 at 13:53
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I've been in a similar situation - unlike you, I waited for the signed contract before quitting. A start date was already agreed, I had confirmation via email, everything sorted. And yet, the signed contract just wouldn't arrive. I reminded them twice, then chased them when it became urgent, and ended up letting them know that I really wouldn't come if they didn't send it! I was quite puzzled, because I thought I was getting on quite well with the interviewers, and the recruiter kept telling me not to worry. It finally arrived on the very last day I absolutely had to give notice in order to make it. That took over a month (close to 6 weeks if I recall correctly).

Much later, I joked about this with the CEO, and he mentioned that some HR person simply didn't manage to get it sent back on time. Too busy ( or, in fact, simply not that well organized ;) ). She treated it as just a formality. Funnily enough (and unrelated) they accidentally paid me double the agreed amount the first month, so it wasn't just that one thing going wrong :D

The workplace was great otherwise, though.

So while I understand your nervousness and of course there's no guarantees, if the software company you've applied to is like a lot of them, there's probably just some hold up like this. I've heard of companies expecting you to sign the contract on your first day.

I would follow up with some urgency when it's getting to the point you really need to be sure (before you incur further expenses), but assume it'll work out.

If you have reason to suspect they're not going to honour their agreement (the email sounds like they intend to), you should probably focus on doing some more interviews, because you'll need another job.

However, I would assume it's just some disorganization in HR, it's more common than you'd think. I hope this helps you keep a clear head, I can well understand how stressful this is.

Best of luck!

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  • I don't want to bad-mouth, but let's consider the worst case: They keep delaying it because at the same time, they have been considering other candidates, with better profiles. But those candidates are not finalized (not yet reach final interview rounds, or maybe they could refuse the offer). As a result, the company keeps me as a "backup" candidate; and only send me the fully signed contract when all other candidates are not successful.
    – ow17
    May 17 at 7:01
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    A company that is prepared to string you along with an unsigned contract can also renege on a signed contract if they feel like it, with virtually no redress. The signature isn't really worth much in terms of legal redress. May 17 at 14:43
  • You're not wrong, @DJClayworth, but somehow, having it signed and on paper is still something else. Besides, as a slight counter argument: Any HR person can send an email. Not necessarily so for signing a contract - in my case, this had to be signed by someone higher up (part of the reason it took so long). So there is some value to it
    – bytepusher
    May 17 at 20:21
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    @bytepusher Under Dutch (The Netherlands) contract law, that is entirely the company's problem. If the receiver may reasonably assume that the sender was authorized to negotiate the agreement on behalf of the company, then the company has engaged in the contract. I expect Germany to be similar in this regard.
    – MvZ
    May 18 at 11:21
  • That may well be the case. Still, imagine an HR person saying "Ha! You're hired". Technically, that's a binding statement - verbal statements are binding. You want to rely on that? Just to be clear: this is going off topic - in OPs case, there's an email with a clear intention, and I'm pretty sure it'd be enforceable (whatever good that would do, IANAL)
    – bytepusher
    May 19 at 8:21
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You did not make a mistake, you almost certainly have a contract in place. However, that contract does not mitigate every risk.

Do you have a contract?

This Lexology article says the following about German contract law:

Offer and acceptance do not need to be declared expressly. A contract can also be concluded by implied behaviour (eg, supply of the ordered products).

You've got written proof of receipt for a contract you signed. In other words: Your acceptance of the offer was confirmed by the employer, in writing. At this point, a physical copy of a signed & countersigned contract is just a formality.

What happens if they break it?

The employer would effectively be terminating your contract before your start date, which was asked before: Could a German employer terminate a contract before the effective/start date?

In summary: Terminating would trigger the 'notice period'. If you have a probationary period without a notice period, they can just tell you to not come in.

If it happens, I recommend consulting with a lawyer to be reimbursed for your moving costs.

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  • Would it be cheaper/safer for the company to cancel the contract while I'm working there under "probationary period", in comparison to canceling before the starting date? The company can just say: "We' have been working with you for 2 weeks, and we see your performance is not good enough. So we end the contract at the end of this month" (2 weeks notice). That means the company only needs to pay 1 month salary, and everything is perfectly legal. (thanks to probationary period).
    – ow17
    May 18 at 12:52
  • Unlikely. If you'd like to explore those details, you need to hire a lawyer to examine the wording of several clauses of the contract, employment law and prior cases. I'm in the Netherlands and terminating a contract before the start date is rare. Valid reasons include fraudulent references (of the candidate) and bankruptcy (of the company). Absent a strong reason to terminate the contract, the company may be liable for some of your costs, regardless of when they terminate.
    – MvZ
    May 18 at 13:16
  • I should note that their liability is not a given: You could have negotiated moving costs or a different notice period.
    – MvZ
    May 18 at 13:49

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