That’s not a contract! Feel free to make hiring contingent on passing background check

It’s common to tell a job applicant he’s hired—as long as a background check doesn’t reveal anything that would disqualify him.

But some applicants think such an offer creates a contractual relationship. Under most circumstances, it doesn’t.

Recent case: Ifedoo Enigwe applied for a job as a ramp agent with U.S. Airways Express. He completed a written job application and was offered the job. The application specifically asked whether he had been convicted of a felony in the past 10 years. He answered “no.”

The airline presented Enigwe a document that said, “Congratulations and welcome aboard! We are certainly delighted that you have accepted our offer of employment…. Your offer is contingent upon a favorable background investigation, drug test and driving record .”

Because the airline did work for the U.S. Postal Service, employees could never have been convicted of either misdemeanor or felony drug offenses, nor could they currently be on probation. It turned out that Enigwe had a 1992 felony drug conviction, had served time in prison until 2007 and was still on probation. The airline revoked the offer since Enigwe couldn’t get Postal Service clearance.

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He sued, alleging he had a contract.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, reasoning that Enigwe simply wasn’t qualified for the job because he could not meet the Postal Service’s requirement. (Enigwe v. U.S. Airways, No. 10-4732, 3rd Cir., 2011)