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My employer gives me mixed messages. If I accept an offer, will it affect my ability to take another position elsewhere?

Monday April 30, 2012
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Dear Nancy,

I was hired as a nurse for a home healthcare agency for which I had worked as a CNA since 2005. At first, I worked one to two days as a nurse and the rest of my hours as a caregiver, with a different pay scale for each. It took almost a month before I was given my final offer. I had been hired to replace a nurse who had given notice but then changed his mind.

About two months later, the employer told me it was not working out. The employer said I could continue to work as a part-time nurse and cover administrative duties (enough to keep me eligible for insurance) while I looked for work elsewhere. The boss promised to write a glowing letter of recommendation that never was written. Less than two weeks after that conversation, I was told not to look for work and asked to work on a special project when they found out I was looking for work.

At the end of September, I asked what my future held because I was getting mixed signals again. About a week later, I was pulled into a meeting with human resources and the owner where I was told I had impressed them and they were going to write another proposal to make it official. To date, I still have not received a letter or proposal.

Only a very small part of my wages have been paid at the nurse’s pay rate, even though at least half of my time is filled with specific nursing tasks. I began noting that time in my last pay period. While this may have galvanized the employer to make an offer and decide how many of my hours should be paid at the higher rate retroactively, I am not sure I want to work there anymore.

I need to keep working while I look for employment elsewhere but I do not want to accept an offer that may last only a few months ... it feels too much like a contract. I am in a legal and ethical dilemma.

Sara Lynn

Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Sara Lynn,

This situation sounds as if the employer can't decide what to do with you or how to use your skills and expertise. It is questionable whether the employer is going to “change its stripes” and offer you something that will be permanent. Looking elsewhere for a bona fide position seems to be your best option.

It does not seem that you are a contractual employee and most of the “offers” for you to work there have been verbal at best. Although verbal contracts exist, if the offers you receive (and the employer then rescinds) are contractual, they are weak at best.

If you decide to keep working there until a position opens elsewhere and you are asked to sign a contract, make sure it is reviewed by a nurse attorney or attorney in your state so its provisions protect you in the event you want to leave the position for another. Your attorney can draft such language for you. In the absence of a written contract, it seems you are an employee-at-will (the employer truly decides “at its will” whether you have a position or not). This works in your favor as well, because you can decide as an at-will employee when to stay and when to leave. This status is something you also can discuss with your legal counsel.


Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.