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Dec 8, 2022
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Got the call today. Recruiter sounded like she was in tears, clearly has been doing this all day.

That’s one of a number of comments online in the past week by people who say that Amazon revoked their job offers (notably, not due to failed background checks or other reasons that lie with candidates.) While Amazon concedes that it’s been doing this for a “very small number of roles,” its decision nonetheless speaks to the current staffing challenges plaguing the organization, as well as the broader tech industry.

“As we continue with our annual operating plan review and in light of the challenging economic conditions,” Amazon spokesperson Brad Glasser wrote in an email to ERE, “we’ve made the difficult decision to eliminate some roles in particular businesses for which we’ve extended offers but the candidates have not yet joined the company.”

The reneging of offers reportedly is concentrated in Amazon’s retail division, which includes Amazon Prime, Amazon Go stores, WholeFoods, and private-label products.

The move to withdraw job offers comes shortly after the tech giant implemented a corporate hiring freeze expected to last into 2023. In a message shared with Amazon workers on Nov. 2, Senior Vice President of People Experience and Technology Beth Galetti wrote, “We had already [paused hiring] in a few of our businesses in recent weeks and have added our other businesses to this approach. We anticipate keeping this pause in place for the next few months, and will continue to monitor what we’re seeing in the economy and the business to adjust as we think makes sense.”

Galetti added that the business would continue to “hire people incrementally” in targeted places in the organization.

There’s What the Law Says…

This isn’t the first instance this year of a cacophony of chatter about employers revoking job offers in tech and other fields. Months ago, after numerous companies had gone on hiring sprees to respond to the dynamics caused by the pandemic, once the economy began careening into rocky territory and sparking fears of a recession, those same organizations started drastically shifting recruiting agendas. Translation: layoffs, hiring freezes, and, yes, rescinding of job offers. 

Taking back offers can have legal implications. Employment attorney Kate Bischoff points out that “there are a few states where if you move for a job and an employer then rescinds an offer, there is liability under state statute.”

Additionally, Bischoff warns that businesses may be liable under the notion of promissory estoppel, which basically states that a party may recover damages on the basis of a promise made. For example, a candidate can file a claim that they suffered economic loss as a result of a move or quitting a current role based on the reasonable expectation of starting the new position that was promised.

However, it can be difficult for a candidate to prove a promissory estoppel claim, says Jon Hyman, who leads the employment labor and practice group at law firm Wickens Herzer Panza. For such a claim to be successful, Hyman explains that a candidate would have to show a reasonable reliance on the promise. But since most positions are at-will, courts are likely to question how reasonable that reliance really is given that the individual could just as easily have been fired on Day 1 of employment. 

Plus, a candidate would have to demonstrate damages, also not easy. “Especially if you are going from one at-will job to another,” Hyman points out, “courts most often, if not always, will say that your damages would be zero. All of which makes promissory estoppel a problematic legal theory.”

This helps explain why candidates rarely file such suits, particularly when they end up finding other roles, receive unemployment, get their old job back, or simply wish to avoid the hassle of the legal process.

…and Then There’s What Job Seekers Will Say

Legalities aside, it’s often employer branding that is most impacted. “Hiring is entirely based on trust,” explains James Ellis, an employer branding consultant. “Candidates quit their last jobs for new ones, some will move to a new location, and there may be visa implications. An accepted offer is based on sacred trust that both sides will do what they say they will do. The second a company violates that trust, it’s in trouble. Even just a few instances of pulled offers can cause negativity about the employer to spread like wildfire online.”

To mitigate damage to employer brand, Nicole Roberts, senior VP of people at Forta, recommends an organization take a “people-first approach” and honestly explain as quickly as possible why an offer has been pulled. “Time is of the essence,” she says. “Candidates may still have time to weigh competing offers.” 

Roberts also suggests offering access to job-placement, career-coaching, and even severance. Indeed, when Coinbase was pulling offers earlier this year, chief people officer L.J. Brock stated: “In addition to the severance packages and job seeking support that we are offering to all those impacted, we are also providing legal services to all those with visa-related issues.”

(The individual who posted the comment at the start of this article claimed to have received a month of severance from Amazon.)

Furthermore, Roberts says, “If a person is a fantastic candidate, recruiters and hiring managers can reach out to their own networks and recommend the candidate to others. This unfortunately doesn’t happen enough because companies are more apt to hoard talent,” which generally means simply entering them into their CRM’s talent pipeline.

“You’ve got to infuse humanity into your decision to pull an offer,” says Kim Jones, senior director of enterprise talent strategy at the University of California, Irvine. Two decades ago, Jones recalls working in college recruiting for an organization. The company had offered a slew of jobs to graduates over the summer of 2001. Shortly after, three planes crashed into three buildings and everything changed overnight.

“The company ended up reneging on job offers,” Jones recalls. “New college graduates who were about to start work with us had their level of excitement decimated by a new workforce strategy as the organization now found itself in a difficult business landscape. So those of us in HR and recruiting did what we could for these college graduates by giving them all sorts of professional advice to help them land jobs elsewhere. We spoke to them from a place of compassion.”

But No Matter What You Do…

The best way to avoid reneging on job offers is to not offer them to begin with — in other words, strategic workforce planning is critical. While rapidly evolving business environments can sometimes make this tricky, companies owe it to their candidates to plan as much as possible. Otherwise, says Ellis, “it feels like a blind panic, like the company doesn’t know what it’s doing.”

One recruiting leader (who chose to remain anonymous for this story) recalls her experience at a large manufacturing company eight years ago. She was forced to rescind 40 offers after the organization closed multiple facilities due to a sudden change in the business landscape. 

“The company had me wait to rescind until the last possible moment,” she says, explaining that leadership was holding out for a possible act by a state governor to save the situation, which he did not. “We wound up rescinding offers in the 11th hour, and some of the folks for whom we rescinded offers had already given notice and trained their replacements. The company knew when it had me extend all 40 offers that this particular outcome was likely; yet it wouldn’t let me discuss this with candidates as I was extending the offers. The way the entire situation was handled was pretty rough, and I wound up leaving because of it.”

It’s an anecdote that also speaks to the effect that pulling offers can have on recruiters (which still typically pales in comparison to what job seekers suffer). It can feel demoralizing, explains Laura Mazzullo, owner of East Side Staffing. “It creates an emotional drain for recruiters. You feel like you are almost responsible for destroying, or at least hurting, a part of someone’s career. It technically may not be your fault, but you can easily feel the weight of your company’s decision, too. That’s why it’s important for recruiters to be supportive of candidates but also recognize that there’s only so much of the process that they can control.”

Ultimately, Ellis sums it up best: “No matter what you do, it’s going to hurt.”

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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