I am in the United Kingdom and currently working full time for a development company (programming). My boss does not know that I have had an offer from a new workplace. My new employer has handed a written letter (not a contract) confirming the offer of employment (but with a 9 month probation period) and I have replied in writing that I accept his offer. I asked that he sends me a contract first and then once I have signed it I would tell my current employer and hand in my notice period.

After stating this to my new employer he responded and said three things:

  • He will issue a contract closer to my start date (around 1 month)
  • He wants to speak to my boss after I hand my notice in (as a reference)
  • He wants me to go to his office next week (4 weeks before my start date) and essentially start discussing and initiating a project they are currently working on. he stated it will be 'paid for' but just wants a head start.

The Question/Dilemma:

I am fine with giving him the number of my boss for a reference and I know I can decline 'working early' next week but again I wouldn't usually mind this. However when these two things have been grouped up with the fact that he wont give me a contract NOW, it for some reason this has built the following image in my head (I don't know if it is correct):

  • he won't give me a contract yet because he wants to 'test' me next week on some work and also wants to speak to my boss before the contract as a referee.

The twist is that his written job offer might fall under the 'conditional job offer' category (I think?) this is because he mentions a 9 month probational period so I think I won't be able to challenge him legally if he backs out before my start date

Am I being too paranoid? Should I just give my notice in and not worry about not receiving the contract and the upcoming 'test'. Or should I be taking steps or persist on receiving a contract before I shed a single word to my current employer. Financially I cannot afford to lose a job right now so his approach has kind of left me nervous and stressed slightly as I feel scared to give my notice in and my new employers backs up last minute.

  • 83
    Note that a probation period of 9 months is also itself a red flag. In practice the maximum is usually considered to be 6 months (though there are no laws governing this).
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 10:16
  • 83
    Run away. Unless you have an offer letter with all conditions lifted and all reference/background checks completed without concerns, the contract is useless to you, but enforceable by your new employer. It's a one-sided deal.
    – Cloud
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 11:53
  • 49
    You have not actually been offered a job. You have simply been told that you will be offered a job if you meet this outrageous demand. Treat this requirement with the complete contempt that it deserves. Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 21:16
  • 14
    The whole point of you looking for a new job whilst currently holding a position says that you're looking for guarantees; this isn't one.
    – Möoz
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 0:47
  • 4
    In the UK you're not really permanent until you've been somewhere for two years anyway, that probation period is meh. Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 5:37

11 Answers 11


I'm also a UK-based developer and reflecting the comments, this doesn't seem right. Your (potential) new employer should know it's unreasonable to expect you to hand in your notice before signing the contract to start at your new place.

In previous experience, my future employer would contact referees from older jobs and, when I've signed the contract (that has a 'pending satisfactory reference' clause), will request the contact details of my current employer. They may even wait until you have actually started before doing this. If a company asked to do anything different, that would be a red flag.

On 'discussing and initiating a project', there is no sin in finding out what work you'll be expected to start on when you arrive. But being paid to implement some work while you're still working for your first company will surely violate your contract with your current employer. Again, a discouraging act on your future employer's part. If they have offered you a job, it would be safe to assume the interview process has concluded. You should not be 'tested' further or expected to do any work for them until the contract arrives and you have worked the notice period.

It would be unusual for you to be given a probation period longer than six months. The only times this is normally extended is if your capabilities are called into question, but that's only after you would have started.

Whether they mean it or not, it sounds like your future employer is either rushing you to take up the role (maybe they have a tough deadline ahead) or they are pressuring you. Explain to them that given the circumstances, you cannot be expected to hand in your notice for one job until you have BOTH committed to your contract for a new one. If they refuse, that'd be enough incentive for me to walk away from it. Try to relax; you know what to look out for and avoid in the future.

  • 4
    The "discussing and initiating a project" might even be a (weird) test about your reliability and the only correct answer can be: "Sorry. Can't do that, cause its a violation to my contract"
    – user69234
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 14:34
  • 28
    I'm also in the UK, and had about 5/6 dev jobs in the last 20 years, and I've never been given a contract before I've handed in my notice; I've always had a written letter of intent though. However, the other factors in this story do make it sound suspicious. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 15:28
  • 4
    @Chris The letter has had the basics, like salary, hours of work and holidays, and probation period. (Beyond that, IMHO the most important part of a job is who you work with, and there's no way of really knowing until you start.) Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 16:00
  • 8
    @Demonblack: As a developer in the UK my contracts have usually included a clause that Ican't carry out other work without permission of my employer. I assume this is to prevent me from overworking myself and thus my work suffering. I've never generally had issue getting permission if I've wanted to do occasional small contracting jobs on the side but technically going and doing work for a new employer before my contract finished would be a breach of that contract.
    – Chris
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 9:32
  • 4
    @Chris it's probably more likely a form of noncompete. They likely won't bother enforcing it if you were to take a second job as a retail cashier or something... but if you started doing development work for someone else, they'd be on that like flies on... dung.
    – Doktor J
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 16:22

Red flag. In fact, multiple red flags. Don't give notice without the signed contract in hand.

You only have this mans word that you have a position to go to. Red flag. In this day and age, that is not enough. It is like buying something with IOU-notes, it is just not how things are done. A company should be professional enough to know this. Red flag

9 month probation, an unspecified "test". Red flag.

Your new boss behaves and communicates in a way you find hard to understand. Red flag.

My advice would be: Put on the brakes, get the written contract or rescind your application.

  • 7
    Agree. If he still wants to talk to a reference, he doesn't consider the job to be offered. He's not behaving forthrightly.
    – CCTO
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 21:40
  • 1
    In many places in the US, an "offer letter" is a contract. If a new employer renegs on this offer there can be financial consequences. Does this work the same in the UK?
    – Andrew
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 22:05
  • 1
    Can only answer for the EU and here it is customary that an offer is simply information that the negotiations have concluded and that the contract is ready to be signed. The contract is the contract. An offer of employment can be rescinded one-sidedly (as can acceptance of that offer) - however after the contract is signed by both parties there will be a clause for how to terminate the contract - usually by written notice and a termination period. (or even do-not-compete or post termination wages, or whatever. But this is for the well and wealthy ;) )
    – Stian
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 8:02
  • A years probation is not uncommon in the UK and you are effectively at will for the first two years any how. Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 19:40
  • 3
    I'd say that 3 or 6 months probation is the norm in the U.K. The two-year issue is specifically that the employee will, in most cases, have to complete two years' service with their employer before they can make a claim for unfair dismissal - both parties are still covered by statutory and contractual notice periods.
    – Gwyn Evans
    Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 7:47


Some answers already told you about red flags, but were a bit unspecific what these red flags are.

  1. 9 months probation time. This is comparatively long (and in some countries even illegal). Why does an employer need such a long time to make up their mind? You will know after a few months if a person is fitting or not, so it is no explanation such a long probation The only reason someone could want such a long time is for the ability to put pressure on you.

  2. He wants to speak to my boss before the contract. There is absolutely no (!) reason to do that. If you are already without work, the request is fine because the work situation is resolved. He can ask the old employer or read the job reference. During or before a job change a new employer will not ask the old employer (until they are friends) because he knows that the old employer may be enraged or disappointed and so gets very probably only negative information. Your new employer does not want a reference, he plans to burn your old bridge to put pressure on you.

  3. He wants that you already work for him without contract. He already tries to milk you, the "test" is not a test, but an exploit so you can work for him without pay and put pressure on you because you are already involved in some project and he knows that many programmers do not like unfinished work. Even if you leave the company, he still has a net win.

In short: Your new employer has all signs of a greedy manipulative jerk who stacks the decks against you. While one sign may be explained without malicious intent, a whole flurry of them is a sure sign of danger.

  • 2
    A probationary period translates to "I trust you with the nuclear launch codes, but you have to use the visitor's bathroom". Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 17:31
  • 14
    The nine months is probably slightly longer than they think the project will take to complete. Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 13:08

In the UK it is expected that you will not hand in your notice until you've got a signed contract from your new employer. There are many reasons an employer may withdraw an offer. You must make sure that you don't find yourself unemployed if they do (you'll find many questions here from people who have had offers withdrawn).

  • 23
    Not only UK - that's how it is everywhere. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 13:06
  • 18
    This is especially true when the new would-be employer has already stated they plan to "test" you after you have given notice, but before giving you a contract. They are openly putting the OP in a bad position.
    – Seth R
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 15:59
  • @BoundaryImposition Right, slaves in ancient Rome had similar rights. Also, slaves picking oranges in Spain have similar "contract". etc Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 7:02
  • What was wrong with my comment that it had to be silently removed/censored? Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 8:35
  • 2
    @thlem I have never had the "contract" before starting a new job in the UK Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 19:41

There are a few points to consider here:

As soon as someone accepts a job offer they have a contract with their employer. An employment contract doesn’t have to be written down.

Accepting a contract

As soon as someone accepts a job offer they have a contract with their employer. An employment contract doesn’t have to be written down.

source: https://www.gov.uk/employment-contracts-and-conditions/overview

What is a contract of employment

There is always a contract between an employee and employer. You may not have anything in writing, but a contract will still exist. This is because your agreement to work for your employer and your employer’s agreement to pay you for your work forms a contract. Your employer does have to give you a written statement within two months of you starting work. The statement must contain certain terms and conditions.

source: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/rights-at-work/basic-rights-and-contracts/contracts-of-employment/#h-what-is-a-contract-of-employment

From what you put in your question you are a step ahead from this as you have a written offer and have given written acceptance of that offer. So it sounds like you already have a valid employment contract with your new employer (enforcing it, if they try to withdraw, is another matter)

Several people in the comments seem to be hung up on the fact that you (and they) haven't signed anything, but this doesn't seem to be relevant.

A contract does not have to be partly or wholly in writing for it to exist, although having it in writing obviously provides more certainty as to what the parties agreed. Following on from this, a contract of employment does not need to be signed for it to be a binding agreement between the parties as acceptance of its terms can be either verbal or implied through conduct.

Source: http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/experts/article-2715470/Is-employment-contract-binding-I-never-actually-signed-It-says-I-three-month-notice-period-never-signed-I-respect-it.html

UK Employment Law Myth (4): Employees must sign their contract for its terms to apply

if an employee does not sign his or her contract, this does not mean that the terms in that contract do not apply. An employer cannot cite an employee’s failure to sign and return the contract as meaning that the terms are not binding and therefore it can change those terms or deprive the employee of rights under the agreement. Likewise, employees cannot argue that the fact they never signed their contract means that they do not have to carry out duties under it.

source: http://www.xperthr.co.uk/blogs/employment-intelligence/2013/08/uk-employment-law-myth-4-employees-must-sign-their-contract-for-its-terms-to-apply/

[To be fair this causes a lot of confusion for the British public. For example when you park in a private car park with clearly posted terms and conditions you are entering a contract with the car park, so break their terms and they can invoice you (with something that looks like a fine but legally is an invoice you agreed to pay.) The typical response is but i didn't sign anything which isn't a valid excuse.]

Additionally, this article (http://www.personneltoday.com/hr/ever-late-withdraw-job-offer/) discusses withdrawing offers from an employers POV (written by a 'senior associate lawyer'), it states if the offer is withdrawn after being accepted they could end up owing you payment for your notice period (enforcing this is, again, another matter)

You must get a ‘written statement of employment particulars’ if their employment contract lasts at least a month or more, within 2 months of the start of employment. https://www.gov.uk/employment-contracts-and-conditions/written-statement-of-employment-particulars

So it's not wrong to not have a signed contract before you start work, although I'd treat it as odd.

You seem particularly worried that you may be left without a job, this isn't an unusual worry but you probably have less rights that you imagine:

  1. Your new employer can probably get rid of you within your probationary period if they want anyway (depending on your contract and conditions)
  2. Even if you are unfairly dismissed then you can't go to an employment tribunal until you have worked there for two years anyway. (https://www.gov.uk/dismissal/what-to-do-if-youre-dismissed)

All that being said, it does sound rather odd the way your new employer is behaving. It sounds to me like they don't understand the norms (or even the law) surrounding employment, which might be enough to make you think twice.

It might be worth organizing your thoughts and having a frank discussion with your new employer, setting out your concerns and asking them to allay them. If they can't do so, or reacts badly to you raising these valid concerns then I'd consider walking away.

I am not a lawyer, but have linked to authoritative sources (UK Govt, Citizens Advice and actual lawyers)

  • 1
    Great job adding the additional references!
    – Neo
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 15:49
  • I'm glad this answer is here, I was under the impression that accepting a formal letter of employment was legally binding. I was also under the impression that a sample contract should be given with that offer if the real one can't be given, such that you can review the legal conditions of your employment before accepting the position. The other two points aren't actually red flags for me, references before contract makes sense and meeting to discuss projects before job start could indicate a desire to have everything in place for that project on the first day.
    – Kaithar
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 15:35
  • 6
    No, your argumentation is incorrect or at least incomple, there is currently no valid employment contract. The simple reason is that both parties must agree to the conditions. If I come to you, say "Do you have work ?", you say "Of course" and I start working for you, then we have a valid, non-written contact. As long as your employer tries to negotiate the conditions (e.g. by demanding a specific probationary period or setting up other conditions), there is no contract. The law needs a sign that the parties came to a conclusion which is normally when you enter the working place. Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 18:59
  • 1
    The question says he received an offer of employment and has accepted it. Therefore, according to the UK Govt website on the source I provided, he currently has a valid contract. If you think this is wrong please provide a source. But just to confirm a signature isn't required.
    – mattumotu
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 8:43
  • 2
    @mattumotu, neither are we lawyers here, nor do we know what exactly those letters contain. That would be gambling his livelihood on a very optimistic interpretation. Best case everything goes right, middle case it works out at first and then he gets fired within the 9 months for reasons that the new employer has planned in from the start, worst case he ends up with no job and a long court procedure. The answer is much too optimistic. And the argument that others find 6 too long is an indication that speaks for my argument (that 9 is too long), not against it.
    – AnoE
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 13:52

Looks like you want the job, however, there are some hiring obstacles that you are not comfortable with. I'd attempt to get more favorable conditions or deny the offer.

I would ask for a contract now. The contract will specify starting date as now + 1 month. There are no reasons for your prospective employer to withhold it.

9 month of probation period is long for a developer role in the UK, I'd ask for a period of 6 months which is more common.

Speaking to the previous employer is also common in the UK. However attaching conditions, like only speaking to your employer once you give them notice is not. Your new employer should not really care whether you gave the notice or not. I would push back on this and ask for a contract first, and then you can provide references.

Also, keep in mind, your current contract may prohibit you from working elsewhere. It is OK to go and meet the team or have a lunch before your start day. But working and being paid for the work may breach your current employment contract.

  • 19
    I'd say 3 months is typical, 6 months is very long indeed, and 9 months is outrageous. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 15:20
  • 2
    In my area, 6 months is very common, but on the other hand I've never seen a probation period longer than 6 months...
    – industry7
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 15:33
  • 3
    I think the consensus is that 9 months in insanity. The only time I can see 9 months being reasonable is in cases of extreme remuneration, where someone with rare skills is paid a hell of a lot to take on mission critical responsibilities.
    – Dom
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 21:47
  • I have come across scenarios where there's been a significant period of training such that the employee has been out of the office for much of the time, resulting in the normal probation being extended in order to allow their time in the workplace to be assessed.
    – Gwyn Evans
    Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 7:33

You have to protect yourself. You need an income. If you really want this new job, you must do two things.

  • Tell the new boss that you won't give notice to your current boss until he gives you an actual contract.
  • Tell the new boss that you won't do any work for him, before the start date of that contract.

These are not negotiable. Now is the time to stand your ground. If he wants you to work for him, and the position really exists, then he will accommodate these demands.


I wouldn't proceed under the current conditions.

  1. If you've not read the contract, how do you know that the conditions are okay? How are you meant to negotiate if you want changes? Once you've handed your notice in, you've got a much worse position to be able to say 'Sorry, no deal.'
  2. Long probation period. There's a high risk here that he just wants you there for a particular project, but only wants to pay the much lower Permanent wages than a 6-9 month contract wage. Another way they do that is the 'temporary to permanent' contract which was never intended to become permanent.
  3. He wants you to do paid work without a contract and while you're still employed by another company (which probably has a sole employment clause). If he was worried about your technical skills, then he should have asked for a portfolio and/or to perform a technical test at the interview.
  4. He wants your current bosses phone number rather than the address to write to get a formal reference.

If it was just one thing, I might proceed, but with 3-4 things that 'smells' bad I'd say no, even if I didn't have a job at all.

  • Kudos for #1, nobody else seems to be addressing it. The employer is trying to put you in a position where you give up your bargaining power and are forced to accept their terms. The terms in the contract can be very nasty compared to those outlined in the offer letter and only one of the two is going to be legally binding (guess which?). You may find one of their stipulations forces you to work for them for 3-5 years or else repay them some atrocious amount of money for arbitrary expenses-- it almost happened to me.
    – Ivan
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 20:07
  • #1 is a fairly important note on this post. I was once "entertained" to a 2 week "trainee" period before my new employee giving me the writing contract due to "bureaucratic issues" just to not have room to back out of a couple of abusive conditions. At the end, it all turned out ok, but in the event of problems could have turned very ugly. Commented Apr 30, 2017 at 8:24

You are supposed to be given a "test" (during your current employment time, likely making you susceptible to blackmail, but let's put that aside) after you resigned at your old job without having a written contract yet.

What will happen if you "fail" that test or "barely pass" it? You'll be in a really awful bargaining position because unless you accept whatever conditions the new employer is willing to grant you on a whim, you will be unemployed. And unemployed due to having resigned yourself which means you will not be eligible for unemployment benefits for a country dependent disgrace period.

So if you don't accept a significantly lower offer, you will likely have to shoulder months worth of missing pay unless you can find another job very fast.

It is not reasonable to expect a new employee to shoulder that kind of risk. So no employer does that unless he is actively planning to exploit the employee's uncautious behavior: otherwise, there would be no benefit to employing somebody who is too stupid to look out for himself.

You can try seeing this as a test in itself and decline merely those conditions, but even attempting this sort of stuff reeks of a company culture completely uninterested in treating employees decently.

If you really want that job, you can tell them to reconsider their preconditions and make your decision dependent on their reaction to that (which does not mean that if they cave immediately everything will be fine: it really depends on your impression on how they cave whether you want to rely on this just being a bit of thoughtlessness easily amended by feedback or active powerplay that is going to come back with a vengeance once you are on the job).

  • 1
    You are supposed to be given a "test" Sure, that test is called an interview. If you can't correctly assess and test the candidate's abilities during the interview process you should probably not be hiring for roles requiring experience. You're also assuming that the OP would struggle to find another job, instead suggesting that they should tolerate employer misbehaviour. All round bad answer, sorry.
    – Kaithar
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 15:39
  • 1
    @Kaithar what's bad about it? You are supposed... clearly implies not that that's how it should be done, but the supposition of OP's prospective employer. Where did user69278 ever suggest tolerating this behavior? even attempting this sort of stuff reeks of a company culture completely uninterested in treating employees decently suggests completely the opposite. Sure, the answer doesn't add much to the existing ones, but it does a fine job of highlighting numerous red flags and suggesting OP rebutts all these outrageous preconditions.
    – LLlAMnYP
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 6:40
  • @LLlAMnYP The bit that implies it's proper procedure is the rest of that sentence. It's implying that the procedure you're supposed to go through is Interview -> Resign -> Be tested -> Be given contract with the implication from the following paragraph that the offer of a job isn't made until the test is passed. The second bit quoted actually implies that some employers are skipping what is supposed to be considered normal procedure.
    – Kaithar
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 10:29
  • I apologize for being blunt, @Kaithar , but I suspect that English is not your first language. While I agree, that user69278 did not do a great job in wording his/her paragraphs, I'm fairly convinced that my interpretation is the intended one. At the very least we'll have to agree to disagree until s/he shows up and clarifies what s/he wanted to say.
    – LLlAMnYP
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 11:48
  • @LLlAMnYP actually English is my first language and I was born and raised in England.
    – Kaithar
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 8:05

Also UK based, I was once in a similar situation, my new employer gave me a proposed starting date (this was before I had given my notice in, didn't have a contract, but had a written offer of employment and I had accepted that offer in writing. They hadn't checked references yet, but wanted to). To start on that date meant giving my notice in the next 2 days, i.e. it was tight.

I made my position clear and stated that provided I could get a contract signed the following day I could give my notice in on the same day and start on the proposed date. This is what happened - I drove to my new employer during my lunch break the following day, signed the contract, and gave my notice in on the same afternoon. I started on the date they wanted me to start, and it all worked out.

They were just desperate for me to start as soon as possible, and thought I might be ok with getting a contract later (some people would be).

My advice would be to state your position in writing sticking to the facts, i.e. You're not comfortable with the idea of giving your notice in before you have a contract. Don't give any reasoning as that starts a discussion around the issue. If they're not prepared to do that then I would consider how badly you want this new job!


You received an offer letter, and replied with an acceptance. THAT'S a contract, and it's legally binding.


Your failure to move forward, as it is, could at some point be construed as a constructive breach, and the new employer could sue you for damages (i.e. the cost of recruiting someone else after they've turned down all the other applicants).

  • 9
    I don't think this answer is helpful, and it's outright ridiculous in the context of what the employer is doing. Since they're claiming OP doesn't have a contract yet, they have no basis for then claiming OP is not meeting the terms of the contract. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 18:26
  • 8
    No, because it's a huge stretch to begin with, and rather than helping OP decide what to do, it introduces an unnecessary and irrelevant scare factor to raise doubt about OP taking care of their real needs. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 18:44
  • 7
    @codenoir I don't know the first thing about this but if the link contains information that is essential to the point you are making in your answer, then that information needs to be in your answer. So it's not a case of someone not having bothered to read your link as much as one of you not having bothered to include the relevant information in your answer.
    – terdon
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 19:31
  • 4
    @codenoir, The new employer is the one who started the CONSTRUCTIVE BREACH/ANTICIPATORY BREACH. He's the one who agreed to one thing in the offer, but then added very unusual conditions, one of which could be potentially considered illegal, or at least untenable for the employee in question. Making an offer to an employee and then later demanding that the employee starts the project before his previous notice period has ended puts the employee in a bad spot. The OP is a full-time employee and may not be allowed to collect two paychecks and work for two employers during the same time period. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 22:34
  • 2
    So not only the new employer seems to be unreasonable, capricious, and untrusting, the new employer has already breached the original terms of the agreed-upon offer -- by unilaterally changing the starting date to something completely unreasonable and unrealistic. So to me, that sounds exactly like the textbook definition of a CONSTRUCTIVE BREACH/ANTICIPATORY BREACH because no reasonable person would now expect the new potential employer to suddenly be reasonable again and honor the original terms of the already accepted offer after receiving these impossible/unreasonable one-sided amendments. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 23:10

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