Extending an offer and having to change the start date, 2021 hire vs. 2020 hire?

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Q: I am the owner of a small manufacturing firm. We are seeing an uptick in some of our work, and a downshift in other areas (all pandemic-related).  We are holding our own though (very lucky I know). One of our managers extended a job offer to a candidate with a December start date.  He is a new manager and didn’t realize that the week between Christmas and New Year’s we are shut down.  This is why we typically try to have new employees start in January.  The new employee has accepted the job offer verbally but we have not put it in writing.  Can we change his start date to January 4, 2021?

A: Congratulations on adapting to the wild ride of operating a business in 2020.  It has been a challenging year for many businesses.  It sounds like you found a way to continue your operation and want to learn how to hire new employees.  This is an achievement in itself.

Your concern is a reasonable one.  Many employers do not want to hire new employees in December, especially if there is a shutdown during one week of the month.

I would suggest that you explain to your new manager the reasons for delaying start dates until early January, 2021.  He will probably understand.  Then I would suggest that your manager contact the prospective employee and have a live conversation.  It is sometimes easier to explain these details, and the logic, via a phone call (vs. an email or text communication).  Your manager could explain that the company is eager to hire him, but it makes more sense for him to start in early January.  If you provide written offer letters to candidates, confirming the details of the offer, you would want to specify the start date.

I think if you explain the reasoning for the change in the start date, the candidate will understand why the start date has changed.  If the candidate has given notice, anticipating a December start date, this could get sticky.  However, if the candidate is unemployed, then there is a perhaps less of a concern, though there may be financial or benefits concerns.

I think the best approach is an acknowledgement of the miscommunication, but also stressing that you are eager to hire him and look forward to him joining in early January.  You can explain the other terms of the offer still stand, including the compensation offered.  While maybe not ideal, it may not be as significant of a concern to the candidate.  My guess is that it will be a snag, but not a show stopper.

Finally, I am thrilled to hear that you are hiring new employees.  It is wonderful to hear that a New England-base firm is continuing to grow.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.