May 14, 2020

Planning For The Rebound: Step 14 – New Hires and Offer Letters During COVID-19

Nearing the end of spring, tens of thousands of undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students and trainees are completing their studies and heading into the job market. Many of these individuals expected to prepare for and take professional licensing examinations (e.g., law, nursing, teaching, medicine). And many may have lined up job offers, and planned to begin new careers following completion of these programs and/or exams.

What none of these soon-to-be graduates could ever have anticipated was a global coronavirus pandemic, coupled with record unemployment. Moreover, many professional licensing exams have been cancelled, postponed, or are undergoing revisions to accommodate the need for remote testing.

Employers who anticipated onboarding these recent graduates may now face a dilemma. For some firms, changing market conditions or closure of operations may mean that they can no longer honor offer letters or timely onboard new hires. Yet, notwithstanding the declining job market, other companies are bringing on new graduates as planned, but possibly with changes to the terms of employment (such as delayed start date).

Considering the likely long-term impacts of COVID-19, here are some tips for employers of recent graduates to keep in mind:

Review and revise offer letters:  Even though employment in California is presumed to be terminable at-will, California recognizes breach of contract claims, as well as claims of breaches of a promise to hire an employee. To help guard against such claims, all employers should review and revise standard offer letters to include (among other things): (i) at-will employment language, (ii) an integration clause, confirming that the offer letter supersedes any other statements that may have been made, (iii) a provision making the offer contingent on market contingencies and/or other pre-conditions such as successful completion of licensing/professional certification requirements; and (iv) language that requires prospective employees to sign and return the acknowledgment of the offer letter.

Communicate in a timely manner:  If an employer anticipates a significant delay to the start date for a potential hire, employers should ensure that they communicate that information in writing to those individuals as soon as possible after any decision has been made. When handled appropriately, these communications can help new hires to understand the reasons for a delayed start date.

Carefully consider the facts and alternatives before revoking an offer of employment:  If an employer decides that they can no longer honor an offer of employment, be sure to review prior communications and offer letters exchanged with the potential hire, as well as the facts associated with the new hire’s prior employment (if any). In light of potential damages from a breach of contract/promise claim, employers are advised to consult with employment and labor counsel prior to making this decision. Again, once a decision has been made, it should be communicated to the candidate as soon as possible to help prevent potential damages. Employers should consider explaining the reason why the offer was rescinded (i.e., market conditions, shut-down of business operations, etc.).

Revisit your company’s professional liability coverage:  In light of delayed examinations for certifications, as well as anticipated delays in the processing of those exams, employers who are onboarding professional hires should be aware that the State of California has either approved or discussed approving interim professional certifications in a number of fields, including nursing, medicine, and law. Employers hiring such individuals should revisit their professional liability coverage to ensure that it covers individuals working on a pre-certification or interim certification basis for an appropriate period of time.


Questions about COVID-19 and the workplace? Contact the Hirschfeld Kraemer lawyer who normally provides your legal advice, or you can reach out to Derek Ishikawa in Hirschfeld Kraemer’s Los Angeles office,, (310) 255-1803.

Did you miss previous posts in our Planning For The Rebound series? Click on the links below:
Step 1 – Requirements For Returning To The Workplace
Step 2 – Do I Have To Bring Back Furloughed or Laid-Off Employees?
Step 3 – Do Employers Need to Bring Back Under-Performers?
Step 4 – Ready To Go Back To Work? Not So Fast …
Step 5 – Passing the Test: COVID-19 Screening in the Workplace
Step 6 – Deciding Which Employees Can Return To The Workplace
Step 7 – Workplace Safety: Posters Are Not Enough
Step 8 – Safety Tips For Allowing Vendors and Visitors Into Your Workplace
Step 9 – Meal and Break Room Safety
Step 10 – Hygiene Tips For A Safe, Clean Workplace
Step 11 – A Workable Plan For Social Distancing
Step 12 – Dealing With Requests To Work Remotely: Separating Facts From Fear
Step 13 – Is Work Travel A Thing Of The Past?

For additional employer-focused information about COVID-19:
Click here to see the Hirschfeld Kraemer EMPLOYER’S GUIDE TO CORONAVIRUS