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If I Accept a Job Offer but Get a Better One From Another Employer Before Starting to Work for the First, Am I Legally Bound to Take the First Offer?

Nurse reviewing documents on laptop


Dear Nancy,

I am looking for a full-time nursing job and am in the process of going to interviews. If I were to accept a job and cannot start working until I give four weeks? notice to my current employer and within a short time frame of my acceptance, say one to two weeks, I were to get an offer for a more desirable position, would I be obligated legally to work for the first employer even if I did not actually start working at that facility?


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Emmie,

As you probably are aware, the requirement of providing a current employer with a certain number of weeks before leaving a position is an aspect of the employer-employee relationship one agrees to abide by with a current employer. This allows the employer time to fill the position an employee is leaving. It is a professional courtesy rather than a legal requirement, unless a signed employment agreement has a definite, required time with which the employee must abide. If such an agreement exists, the employer may have included legal options in the agreement to exercise if an employee does not adhere to the required notice time frame.

If there is no employment agreement, as an at-will employee, a person can leave a position now held at any time, just as the employer can terminate an at-will employee at any time for any reason or no reason at all (other than a discriminatory one).

However, an employer understandably will not be too pleased with an employee leaving before the agreed-to time. This displeasure may be seen in the reference the employer gives to a future employer, if in no other way than to say that the current employer would not rehire the employee.

In the situation you describe, accepting a second position after stating to a newly agreed-to future employer that you will begin work there after you meet your current employer?s notice requirement adds lots of drama to the professional courtesy mix which consists of an employee, a soon-to-be employee and a want-to-be another employer?s employee. Although you have not begun to work for the soon-to-be employer, professional ethics should play a part in your decision. It is your decision, since unless you signed an agreement stating you would begin work for the soon-to-be employer, you are not legally bound to do so. However, the soon-to-be employer?s displeasure about your decision may be expressed in the future in some way not contemplated at the moment.

It is always important to remember this old saying: ?Don?t burn all your bridges behind you.? The saying is neither a legal nor ethical principle, but rather a common sense approach to life in general.