Who Should Review and Sign an Offer Letter to a Job Candidate?

Who Should Review an Offer Letter to a Job Candidate?

HR manager reviewing and making a job offer.
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Dear Susan,

Speaking of offer letters, what level of HR employee or manager is expected to review an offer letter prepared by an HR Assistant and for how many months should this review process continue if the HR Assistant is a new employee? If the HR Assistant is an experienced employee?

Who should be the signatory on an offer letter? Should it be the HR Assistant who prepares the offer letter or the higher-level employee or manager who reviews the offer letter (if a review is expected to occur)?

Thank you very much for any assistance that you are able to provide in responding to these questions.

Dear Belinda,

My responses to these two questions are strictly my opinions, as no legal issues are involved in the responses. When I worked as an interim HR Director for a client company, between the former HR person leaving and my taking over, the HR Assistant sent out an offer letter with the wrong salary. I knew immediately when I pulled it from the pile of documents that greeted me on my arrival because it was too low for the job.

Talk about an instant learning point.

While I recognize that in some organizations the HR manager, director, or VP – never an HR assistant, in my experience - signs the job offer letters that go to candidates, this is bad practice in the private sector. It is not the HR person who is making the offer. The HR person is consulting with the hiring manager who should make the final decision about a candidate and sign the offer letter.

The offer letter is the manager’s commitment to the new employee. By making the offer, he or she confirms his or her commitment to the new employee’s success. Welcoming a new employee is part of the entire recruitment, selection, and hiring process. They are all components in the onboarding process.

The job offer is another part of welcoming the new employee into your organization and making the new employee feel wanted. It sends a more powerful message when it comes from the prospective employee’s new boss.

Exceptions to Recommended Practices

In the public sector, in Fortune 500 companies, and in union-represented workplaces, I recognize that this practice may differ. When an organization is large and the employees are scattered across many locations, logistically, this adds time and confusion to the process of making job offers.

Larger organizations have the additional challenge of consistency across multiple locations so much of the systematization of employment practices rests with HR.

In a union-represented workplace, especially in the public sector, the manager may not have the final say in who obtains the job. It may be contractually determined by factors such as seniority and education. In these instances, it also makes sense for the paperwork to come from the HR staff. They are responsible for making certain that working conditions and practices abide by the contract.

In any of these instances, HR should ask their attorney to review the offer letter format and process to ensure that they are proper, legal, and employer-protecting.

Unless the offer letter differs from the standard format, however, there is usually no need to ask an attorney to review each individual letter.

Should an HR Manager or Director Review All Job Offer Letters?

My take away from the experience I mentioned earlier in this article, is that any document that obligates the company legally or financially must be reviewed by an HR manager or director. Here’s why:

  • An offer letter and many other documents that are sent by HR staff legally obligate the company. Sure, when an error of $10,000 is found, you can withdraw the offer and explain that it was a typo done by an inexperienced employee, but why open up the company to a situation in which a changed salary offer must be extended, an unhappy new employee might still take the job, or you could lose a perfectly suited candidate who is deflated and wounded, because of an error. Additionally, it could open your firm up for legal action.
  • To honor the incorrect job offer, using the same example, is equally unappealing. Before the company extended the offer, someone in HR researched the market, reviewed what other employees in similar jobs are making, and concluded with an appropriate job offer. So, the ramifications are further reaching if other employees learn the salary differential.
  • No matter the level of experience of an HR assistant who should, in an HR office, prepare the offer for sending, a second pair of eyes reviewing anything that could potentially obligate the company financially or open the door to a legal action, is smart. Organizations expect more vigilance and oversight from employees who are titled manager or director.
  • A failure to communicate could result in incorrect terms and conditions of employment that were not negotiated or were promised to a candidate. For example, the HR assistant may know that the job would pay $40,000 but in the process of negotiating, the candidate was offered more plus a signing bonus and, in the everyday busy, the manager failed to tell the HR assistant.

    When a job candidate receives an incorrect offer, he or she is re-evaluating the integrity of your company. You create a barrier to acceptance that was unnecessary as the candidate worries about how to handle the situation.
  • Documents that go to people you are attempting to recruit to your firm must be flawless. They signal a message to the potential employee about the culture of your firm. Even a typo can give a candidate a pause. A copy of the document will also live in your company files for years. So, in most cases, a second pair of eyes reviewing the document is a smart practice.

I don’t see the review of documents that obligate the company financially or potentially, legally, as criticism of an HR assistant’s knowledge, experience, or diligence. It is a smart business practice for all of these reasons.

Note about job offers: HR should ask their attorney to review the offer letter format and process to ensure that they are proper, legal, and provide the employer with legal protection. Unless the offer letter differs from the standard format, however, there is usually no need to ask an attorney to review each individual letter.

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Susan Heathfield makes every effort to offer accurate, common-sense, ethical Human Resources management, employer, and workplace advice both on this website, and linked to from this website, but she is not an attorney, and the content on the site, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality, and is not to be construed as legal advice.

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