Avoid Common Pitfalls with Your Job Offer Letter

By Practice Growth April 12, 2021

While finding an employee with the right skills and background can be a challenge in itself, a key part in sealing the deal is the job offer letter. A verbal agreement alone regarding employment is often inadvisable, although that may mark the start of an employer-employee relationship. The job offer letter provides a written record of what competencies the employee is expected to bring to the table, a clear definition of the role, and what pay and benefits come with employment.

An effective letter provides a crystal-clear vision of the job’s parameters within your practice, empowering both parties to move forward with confidence. For this letter to achieve its intended purpose, however, it is vital to understand what things should be included and be aware of potential pitfalls.   

Must-Haves for an Effective Job Offer Letter

It may seem obvious, but the letter should begin with a word of thanks for the applicant’s interest and make it clear that the position is being offered. The position also must be defined with its title, start date, part-time or full-time designation, hourly or salary payment, exempt or nonexempt status, scheduled hours, and pay rate per the Fair Labor Standards Act. You should also designate the role’s immediate supervisor and an outline of job duties, which may be more fully outlined in a separate job description document to be signed in the onboarding process. While that may seem like a lot, fully denoting the job may be key in preventing misunderstandings or disagreements in the future.

Outline pay schedules and benefits the applicant is entitled to upon acceptance. This does not have to be in great detail, as these elements are standard in employee handbooks. The brief mention of benefits associated with the job illustrates the value inherent in the position. Bear in mind that benefits are not exclusively medical, retirement, or paid leave. If employees in your practice get a family discount on glasses or exams, for instance, it is appropriate to include the information in the offer letter.

State any conditions or contingencies for employment, such as drug screening, I-9 verification, and background checks. This is also the section to state that employment is at-will (except in Montana, as at-will employment has additional restrictions) and that the letter’s contents supersede any prior agreements. These elements are vital to prevent contractual obligations that could lead to litigation in the event of terminating employment.

Finally, provide information on how and when the applicant can accept the offer or reach out with questions. This means outlining who to contact and by what method. There should also be a time limit for accepting the job offer and returning a signed letter; this is often a few days or one week. Without a deadline for acceptance, your practice’s operations are potentially stalled with no guarantee of a qualified candidate to fill your position.

Potential Pitfalls to Avoid

A job offer letter can be interpreted as a legally binding contract if not written properly, so be sure that you can deliver everything you promise. Namely, do not reference termination beyond the statement that employment is at-will, as this may contradict the nature of at-will employment. Also, make no promises regarding the duration of employment or pay raises. The future is unknown, and even the illusion of a promise could be interpreted as a contractual obligation despite any statements to the contrary. In the event of a pandemic, for instance, projected pay raises or continued employment to a certain duration may not be possible.

To best err on the side of caution, seek legal review of your job offer letter template. The template can leave specifics like salary rate or supervisor name as generic placeholders, so it can be adapted for future letters. This ensures that the current and future job offer meets all labor law standards and provides the protections your practice needs.

Tangible or Intangible Communication?

Deciding whether to print or email the job offer letter can have unforeseen implications. Whether you opt for tangible paper or an electronic document, aim for a positive yet straightforward tone to begin the working relationship on a good note. As it is also professional communication, the use of company letterhead is recommended to both add credibility to your employment practices and as proof, the letter is, indeed, from your practice.

The question of the job offer letter’s authenticity is an important consideration. If disputes later arise, there should be no opportunities for the particulars to be altered. So, the letter should not merely be with an email’s narrative or sent as an editable Word document. When email is the vehicle to deliver a job offer, the letter should be attached as a PDF document to ensure what you intend to send arrives in the potential employee’s inbox with no changes and to prevent modifications from being made to the offer--after the fact.

Using these guidelines to clearly define the job with an effective offer letter leaves no ambiguity to the role. While much of the language serves to legally protect your practice, it also sets a new employee up for success. Beginning a new job is never easy, but it is far smoother to enter unfamiliar territory with a guide to the terrain.

When it comes to employment law matters, we should always seek the advice of an employment attorney. Employment law is in constant flux. The attorney fee will be nominal, especially if you send them a good draft. The attorney can template out the letter so you can use it in the future for similar hires. Don’t skimp on the attorney review; otherwise, it could cost you a lot more in the end. 


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