Q. After verbally accepting a job offer a candidate has informed me that they have a three week holiday booked for November. That is our busiest time, so can I go back and tell them I have changed my mind before they officially sign anything?
A: While it may seem straightforward to go back to the employee and tell them you have changed your mind, the fact that you have made them a job offer, which has been verbally accepted, makes the situation more complicated.
Although it may appear strange given that a physical document has yet to be signed, the verbal agreement means that a valid contract of employment has been formed. As a result, you cannot simply rescind the job offer and must effectively dismiss the employee from the role.
You will need to contact the employee and inform them of your decision and the reasons behind it. Be prepared for the fact that the employee is likely to be frustrated with this decision and it is best to follow-up any verbal discussion with a written letter as evidence.
You must also ensure that the employee is paid the for the appropriate amount of contractual notice; however, because you have only made a verbal offer so far it is very unlikely that you will have agreed any contractual notice period yet.
Therefore, in the absence of any contractual notice you are required to provide staff with a ‘reasonable’ amount of notice, which will vary depending on the nature of the role, the typical notice period for the industry, the seniority of the position and the salary they would have earned in the role.
For example, if there is already an employee working in an identical role within your organisation with a contractual notice period of one month, then this must be applied. Failing to abide by this requirement could result in legal proceedings if the individual decides to bring a claim to an employment tribunal.
Having said this, you should take the time to consider if it is really necessary to dismiss the employee, or whether it is possible to work around the three week holiday they have booked for later in the year.
Much of this will depend on the resources available to your organisation and if you can arrange the appropriate cover.
Also, given the existing skills shortage, you should rethink whether it is worth dismissing an individual in these circumstances who has the potential to become a successful and highly valued employee.
Ultimately, if you are unable to accommodate the individual’s holiday request you will be best off following the appropriate procedure by properly dismissing the employee. However, it is advisable not to rush into the decision without first trying to come to some sort of compromise.
To avoid similar situations in the future it would be wise to instruct interviewers to ask about applicants’ pre-booked holiday plans earlier on in the recruitment process, thereby providing you with a good sense of how this may impact your organisation if they end up being hired.