In this difficult economy, receiving a job offer is usually a cause for great celebration. For an executive, it can take months or longer to find a position that is truly a perfect fit. However, even after finding that supposedly perfect fit, many executives contact us because of the problems that quickly arise after they accept an otherwise promising job offer. Those job offers themselves frequently foreshadow the problems that the executive then goes on to experience on the job. Here are six job offer signs that, in our experience, do not bode well for a long, productive, and mutually rewarding employment relationship:
1. The job offer is overly vague or aspirational about job duties
When you are offered a job, demand to see a specific job description, if available. We have seen situations where an employee makes assumptions about what his or her job duties will be based upon the job title alone, and then becomes disappointed when the job does not meet expectations. If the employer is unwilling or unable to give you a written job description, or at least a very specific verbal description of your job duties, this could be cause for concern.
2. The job offer includes vague promises for additional compensation in the future
Avoid agreeing to accept a position with substantially lower pay than you would otherwise expect in exchange for some vague “promise” to provide you with unknown additional compensation in the future. We have seen situations where an employer makes a promise to an employee to the effect of, “we cannot afford to pay you very much now, but we promise we will consider giving you a substantial raise after our business gets off the ground.” Such promises are likely unenforceable in court, and you may find yourself in a position where you spend years working for an employer at a discount, never to receive the promised rewards that you anticipated at the beginning of the relationship.
3. The company’s future ownership or management structure is uncertain
We have frequently seen the following scenario: an executive gives up a lucrative job in order to work for another company that has made attractive promises about the working environment. At first, the executive loves the new job. Then, just six months after starting, the company is sold and new management takes over. Suddenly, the working environment completely changes, and the executive begins to wish that he or she had never given up the previous job. In light of the above, it is always wise to question whether the ownership and management structure of your potential employer is stable. For workers who sign employment agreements, “change in control” provisions can help protect an employee against just this very scenario.
4. The job offer is contingent upon acceptance of an outlandish non-compete provision
For many executives, employers make the job contingent upon the executive’s acceptance of a non-compete provision. A non-compete provision restricts the executive’s ability to continue working in his or her field for a certain period of time in a certain geographic area after the separation of employment. While many employers overreach and demand that executives agree to non-compete provisions that are ultimately unenforceable, litigation over a non-compete provision can be extremely expensive and time-consuming for an executive. For this reason, if you are presented with a job offer that contains a non-compete, you should seriously consider whether the provision’s restriction on your ability to earn a living in the future is actually worth accepting that particular job now.
5. The job offer contains onerous arbitration or prevailing party fee provisions
In the “honeymoon period” of a new job, most executives do not think about the prospect of future litigation with an employer. However, in order to protect yourself and your future legal interests, it is wise to closely examine whether your job offer requires you to limit your legal options for proceeding against your employer in any way. Many job offers require employees to agree to submit any future legal disputes to arbitration, which can greatly limit the remedies you may otherwise be able to obtain in court. Other job offers contain prevailing party fee provisions, which require the unsuccessful party at trial or arbitration to pay the attorneys’ fees of the other party. These provisions can be particularly onerous to employees, and should only be considered with great care.
6. The job offer includes an onerous “sign-on bonus” or loan provision
In many cases, an employer may provide an employee with a “retention bonus,” a “sign-on bonus,” or some form of up-front compensation in exchange for the employee’s acceptance of a job offer. Most of the time, there is a catch to these provisions – if the employee leaves the job before a certain period of time has elapsed, he or she must pay back the bonus. Sometimes, this pay-back period can extend for years. These bonuses can provide an excellent and helpful incentive to employees. However, if you are in a position where you will immediately need to spend your sign-on bonus and will not be able to easily pay it back in the future, you should realize that you are significantly limiting your options by accepting the bonus and taking the job.
The decision of whether to accept a job can be a multi-faceted one. Particularly if your employer presents you with an employment agreement or contract, it is a decision that you may wish to discuss with an attorney. If you have a question about a job offer or employment agreement that you have received, please contact us.