A reader writes:
11 months ago, I accepted a job in the nuclear industry (Company X). At that time I was unemployed. The offer was contingent upon the issuance of a security clearance. Clearances take anywhere from 2-3 weeks to 2-3 years. In such situations, people either travel, volunteer, enjoy the free time, or find a job. Luckily for me, I found another job immediately, not really pertaining to my field, but it's higher pay, 20% more to be exact.
I was informed by the issuing agency that my clearance is about to be issued any day now from, and the next step would be that Company X will discuss my start date. I really want to start my new job, but I am having second thoughts since my current job pays much more.
I know that the #1 rule is never to discuss or negotiate job terms AFTER formally accepting an offer. However, this offer was made a year ago and a lot happens in a year! I also know that these clearances cost a lot of time and money for the company (8K-15K). I feel guilty to open up negotiations, but I also know that they need me more than I need them, since they invested in me and have been waiting.
Should I address salary negotiations given that it's been a year and that I am currently employed?
I wrote back to this reader and asked if he/she had signed a contract. The response:
Now that I think about it, I should have signed the contract (a condition mandated by government agencies to pursue security clearances, I technically have to be an employee-on-stand by).
However, instead I verbally accepted the offer. They were more concerned about my paperwork for the clearance, and I now think that they forgot to wait on my signed contract. I believe the HR lady has committed a blunder by processing my paperwork without my signature on the offer.
Okay. If you didn't sign a contract, then it sounds like legally you're free to back out.
Ethically is a different story.
You accepted this job at a particular salary, knowing that there would be a long wait while your security clearance was processed, and knowing that the company would spend $8-15,000 getting you that clearance. Now that your clearance has been obtained, the ethical thing to do is to set up a start date and not try to negotiate.
Frankly, if I were this employer, and you tried to negotiate at this point, I would be so disgusted that I would probably pull the offer, unless I were desperate. It shows a lack of integrity.
So I wouldn't count on being able to negotiate successfully anyway. You should see your choices as taking the job you committed to, at the salary you accepted, or not taking it at all. And if you don't take it at all, account for the fact that you will burning a bridge, and you may run into someone from that company in your professional future. Do you want to be seeking a job offer from a different company some day and discover that the person you burned is a decision-maker there?
So not only is honoring your commitment the ethical thing to do, but it's also probably the smart thing to do.
What do others think?