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I have recently signed an offer letter for a faculty position.This is not a permanent position. One of the required documents in the offer letter was the names of referees. As far as I know my referees have not been asked for letter of recommendations yet. I am confused about why they asked me to sign the offer letter, whereas they have not contacted my referees in advance.

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    I'm confused. It seems to say you were offered a permanent position and accepted. Why would they want any additional information if you've already been hired. Can you clarify this? In particular what is intended here by "offer letter"?
    – Buffy
    Sep 24, 2021 at 19:41
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    I don't think we can help you unless you tell us what exactly was in the "offer letter". It may be that they offered you a position "conditional on something", and that that something included asking for letters of reference and getting positive results. Sep 24, 2021 at 20:23
  • While I see a question mark, I don't see a question here.
    – Kimball
    Sep 24, 2021 at 21:37
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    @Buffy By offer letter I meant a letter from University like a contract to be signed by me. The position is not permanent. "Why would they want any additional information if you've already been hired. " This is my question I asked, and I have explained it in my question clearly.
    – user40491
    Sep 25, 2021 at 9:54
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    @Buffy in my experience it is common to spend the first day at a new job filling out paperwork. I have even filled out a job application on the first day. At that point it is pro forma. There was a 0% chance that any of the referees I listed would get contacted. Still my first day tasks included filling out these reams of forms and I completed my tasks.
    – emory
    Sep 26, 2021 at 1:43

2 Answers 2

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I haven't seen it before in universities, but certain corporate firms use conditional offer letters where the terms of the offer may stipulate that it is subject to referee checks, security checks, work-history checks, checks of educational credentials, medical tests, drug tests, etc. In such cases, the terms of the offer will usually specify that you agree to assist them with conducting these checks, and if the results of the checks come back unsatisfactory (or if you fail to provide them the required information/permissions to conduct the checks), your offer of employment never materialises. Firms do this partly as a time-saver and partly to try to "lock in" favoured candidates while they conduct pre-employment checks.

I haven't seen this from a university before, since they usually take their sweet time with academic recruitment anyway, so they usually conduct referee checks prior to offer. Nevertheless, universities have become highly corporatised, and it is not particularly surprising to see them using this mode of offer. You should look at the exact terms of your offer letter to see what you are obligated to do and what obligations the university has. (Ideally, you should have had a good look at the terms prior to signing!)

The legal status of conditional employment offers is quite a complicated field. From a purely contractual point of view, firms can make conditional offers and if you fail to meet the conditions then the stipulated outcome does not occur. However, these contracts are also impacted by employment law and principles of estoppel. In particular, in some situations where the final offer of employment does not materialise, the offering firm can be liable if a prospective employee relies on a conditional offer to their detriment, such as by quitting their existing job or moving to a new location for their expected position. Here is an introductory article about the legal status of conditional employment offers, though it pertains to the legal jurisdiction in New Jersey. Employment law differs over different jurisdictions, so if you need legal assistance understanding the implications of your offer letter, you will need to consult a lawyer in your jurisdication.

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  • I've also been asked for references in connection with employment in industry (as a visiting researcher), at the time of the offer, even though the offer was not conditional in any way. As far as I know, none of the references were ever contacted. My guess is that HR requires references but the research unit considers them irrelevant for visiting researchers. Sep 25, 2021 at 0:17
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I have seen this before. It meant, references were a formality. Basically, the offer stands as log as your referees don't tell something horrible about you.

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