Many employers in Minnesota extend a job offer by presenting the candidate with a written offer letter. The merits of this best practice include avoiding any ambiguity as to compensation or other employment terms and confirming, as appropriate, the individual’s at-will employment status – for example, by including an at-will employment disclaimer.
The offer letter can also be used to articulate any conditions to the job offer. For example, if the individual must satisfactorily complete a background check or drug screen prior to the offer being finalized, those requirements should be set forth in the letter. Further, if the offer is intended to be void if the candidate fails to show up for work on the specified start date, that term should also be expressly stated in the letter. As appropriate, the letter may also state that its terms are subject to change or withdrawal at any time prior to acceptance.
It is also important that the offer letter communicate any expectations the company may have that the candidate agree to the terms of a noncompete or other restrictive covenant agreement. Typically such an agreement would be included as an enclosure to the offer letter so that the individual can review the specific terms of any such restrictions before accepting the job. For the job itself to act as sufficient consideration for the restrictive covenants, the job must be accepted with prior knowledge of the noncompete, nonsolicit, or other restriction. See, e.g., Sanborn Manufacturing Co. v. Currie, 500 N.W.2d 161, 164–65 (Minn. Ct. App. 1993).
The job offeree’s understanding and acceptance of each of these employment terms is best confirmed by having the individual sign a copy of the offer letter and return it to the employer.
If the offer is accepted and finalized and the candidate becomes employed, this countersigned offer letter can also satisfy the requirements of a little-known Minnesota law regarding contracts of employment. Minnesota Statue § 181.55 was enacted in 1933 and technically requires that employers give employees a written and signed agreement of hire that clearly and plainly states certain terms.
While there is no claim or cause of action that arises if a signed written statement regarding the terms of employment is not provided, the failure to do so results in the employer bearing the burden of proof in establishing such terms in the event of a dispute. See Minn. Stat. § 181.56. The written statement is not required to be given to farm labor or casual employees who are temporarily employed, and does not apply to companies with less than 10 employees. See Minn. Stat. § 181.57.
Takeaway: Rather than leaving basic employment terms ambiguous and subject to dispute, the best practice for employers is to provide a candidate with a written job offer. Legal counsel can be of useful assistance in making sure such letters comply with applicable laws and contain essential terms.