Q. Our company has typically sent formal offer letters to job candidates for certain positions. Could such letters legally bind us, and would we be smarter to avoid them? —S.T., Texas
A. Although companies aren't legally bound to use job-offer letters, they're a good idea for several reasons. First, they help avoid any miscommunication about the terms (e.g., salary, bonus, benefits, etc.) of the offer. Second, they're something tangible that gives the prospective employee a sense of security when resigning from hir or her former position. Third, they can clarify the new employee's job duties and responsibilities.
That said, offer letters must be carefully drafted to avoid creating a contract of employment for a specific time or limiting your company's right to terminate the employment. Bottom line: A good offer letter is an effective HR tool and may even be helpful in employment litigation, but a poorly written one can come back to haunt you.