Employers facing financial difficulty due to the coronavirus pandemic may wish to postpone a new recruit's start date or even revoke the offer as a cost-saving measure, particularly if a slowdown in business means there is no need for the new hire or there are pressures on headcount. 

There may also be practical difficulties for many organisations in hiring new employees right now, given Government advice that employees should work from home wherever possible. 

We answer some common questions that we have been asked. 

Can we vary an employee’s start date?

If an employee has accepted a job offer and the start date has been agreed, this will be a term of the contract. You can change the employee’s start date with their consent. 

If the employee does not consent, then you could unilaterally impose a later start date, but you would need to give notice to the employee in accordance with the contract, otherwise you would be in breach of contract. 

In what circumstances can we withdraw a job offer because of COVID-19?

If an employee has not accepted an offer, you can withdraw the offer without issue, assuming the withdrawal is because of coronavirus and not for a discriminatory or other reason.  

You can also withdraw an offer if it was conditional on certain requirements being met (such as receipt of a satisfactory reference) and the reason for withdrawal is that the conditions have not been met.

In some instances, an offer may have been made in principle, but it may not have been capable of acceptance because the terms were not sufficiently certain, e.g. you were still negotiating key terms such as pay, benefits and the start date. Where key terms have not been agreed, you may be able to withdraw the offer. 

Withdrawal of employment offer in light of COVID-19

Inevitably, many employers are having to re-evaluate their business and consider whether they are able to retain new employees. If an employment contract has been signed with the new employee and you subsequently revoke the offer because of Covid-19 then you should give notice to terminate in accordance with the terms of the contract. 

You will potentially liable for the employees resulting losses, which are likely to be limited to payment for their notice period under the contract.