Withdrawal of job offer has costly courtroom consequences for employer

The candidate sued the company for breach of contract

The recent case of McCann v Snozone Ltd may cause concern for employers and recruitment agencies, with confusion reigning when the employer and the recruitment agency selected to act on its behalf failed to communicate effectively.

Initially, Snozone had decided to appoint a recruitment agency to find suitable candidates as maintenance engineers. After two interviews, the successful candidate was allegedly offered a job in a telephone conversation with the agency. The applicant claims he accepted the position, although the employer denies any knowledge of a job offer.

Sadly, this dispute around who said what to whom resulted in the employer finding itself not only in court but also on the miserable receiving end of a decision that found in the claimant’s favour. Following a full hearing, an employment tribunal concluded that the employer was in breach of contract and damages of £3,000 were awarded.

This case was not straightforward. The issue at stake, and disputed in the courtroom, was the detail of the discussion between the candidate and the recruitment agency appointed by the employer. The candidate sued the company for breach of contract.

Specific details of the telephone conversation were challenged, with the agency disputing McCann’s version of events. Nevertheless, the claimant and the recruitment agency both agreed that the salary and starting date for the position were not discussed at the time.

The employment tribunal concluded that employment had been offered verbally through the agency, which constituted a contract of employment. As the offer was withdrawn with no notice, the employer breached this contract. Given that no conditions of employment had been put in writing at this stage, the tribunal awarded costs of one month’s salary plus fees.

This case has repercussions for employers and recruitment agencies. Legally, a contract does not necessarily have to be presented in writing. A verbal offer of employment followed by a verbal acceptance constitutes a binding agreement.

It is always good practice for companies to telephone candidates with an offer; however, in this case, the lack of communication between the agency and employer resulted in a failure to establish the conditions of the offer.

Verbal promises can often end in disputes, with breaking the terms of a spoken agreement potentially resulting in misrepresentation or a breach of implied duty of trust and confidence. This may seem harsh, but failure by the recruitment agency and the employer to set clear conditions for employment have resulted in a hefty fine. Neither party communicated effectively.

Perhaps employers and their recruitment agencies should remember that it is good to talk.

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