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2017 Eastern Division Meeting

Statement on Offers of Employment
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The following statement was prepared by the committee on career opportunities (Philip Quinn, chair) and approved by the board of officers at its 1987 meeting. Originally published in Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, Vol. 61, no. 3, pp. 537-538. It was most recently updated in November 2015.

Each year the board of officers hears of difficulties that have arisen for employers or prospective employees in the course of the hiring process. Problems of two sorts have come up often enough that it seems appropriate for the board to address them. They occur primarily at the level of junior appointments and involve deadlines for responses to offers and oral offers and acceptances.

Deadlines for Responses to Offers: The circumstances under which offers are made are so various that no rule will cover all cases, but norms of professional courtesy suggest some helpful advice. Employer and prospective employee should be respectful of one another's legitimate concerns. Employers are properly concerned about planning for the contingency of making another offer in a timely fashion if one is turned down. Prospective employees are properly concerned to make important career decisions in the light of fairly complete information about which offers they are actually going to receive. In some cases such concerns may set employer and prospective employee at cross-purposes unless professional courtesy is exercised by both parties. Ideally, at the time an offer is made, employer and prospective employee should discuss their concerns with the aim of arriving at a mutually agreeable deadline for response. In normal circumstances a prospective employee should have at least two weeks for consideration of a written offer from a properly authorized administrative officer, and responses to offers of position whose duties begin in the succeeding fall should not be required before February 1. When an employer is unable to honor these conditions, the prospective employee should be given an explanation of the special circumstances that warrant insistence on an earlier decision. By the same token, a prospective employee should not delay unnecessarily in responding to an offer once it has been made. When a prospective employee requests more time to consider an offer than the employer is inclined to give, a candid statement of the reasons for the request is in order.

Oral Offers and Acceptances: There are at least two distinct types of situation that cause difficulties with oral offers and acceptances. The ideals of professional courtesy suggest advice for dealing with them. One is the case in which a prospective employee received what appears to be an oral job offer and on that account forgoes other opportunities only to learn later that the prospective employer has no job to offer because, for instance, a position does not receive final administrative approval. In order to prevent misunderstandings on this score, the prospective employer should make it very clear to the prospective employee whether a formal offer is being extended or not. If a prospective employer is only in a position to say that a formal offer will be forthcoming provided a departmental recommendation received administrative approval and to predict such approval, the prospective employee should be told explicitly that this is the situation. Another kind of difficulty arises when a formal offer is orally made and accepted and the prospective employee later receives and accepts another offer. Such cases can present both legal and moral problems. It is worth bearing in mind that there are circumstances in which oral contracts are legally binding. In addition, oral acceptance of a formal offer, like making a serious promise, generates a strong prima facie obligation to take the job thus accepted, and weighty reasons are needed to justify not doing so.

Offers of Employment (Short Version)

In normal circumstances, a prospective employee should have at least two weeks for consideration of a written offer from a properly authorized administrative officer, and responses to offers of positions whose duties begin in the succeeding fall should not be required before February 1. If a prospective employer is only in a position to say that a formal offer will be forthcoming provided a departmental recommendation receives administrative approval and to predict such approval, the prospective employee should be told explicitly that this is the situation. It is worth bearing in mind that there are circumstances in which oral contracts are legally binding. In addition, oral acceptance of a formal offer, like making a serious promise, generates a strong prima facie obligation to take the job thus accepted, and weighty reasons are needed to justify not doing so.
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