If I sign a contract to work for an employer, and something family-related prevents me from moving, can I cancel the contract?

I’m considering signing a contract for a position which won’t open for a year. If I sign the contract which does not specify any required length of employment and something comes up in the next year that causes me to be unable to move to the new position, may I revoke my decision to work at that company? Will the company be allowed to sue me or hold me responsible for any fees associated with my employment if I cancel?

Asked on June 8, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Pennsylvania


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

If there is no stated duration, you could end your employment at any time, or as a general matter could, could choose to not begin it. Employment contracts without a set duration do not lock in or obligate either party (employer or employee) to employment for any specific time. However, the potential hitch is that if you know or reasonably should know that they will incur some specific costs of fees in conjunction with your potential employment--for example, if they will send you to certain training, or pay for any schooing, certification, or equipment, then if you do not go through the employment after they have incurred that cost, it is possible that they could hold you liable for the cost, since they would have incurred it in reasonable reliance on your representation that you would work for them. (For example: say they spend money on training you. If you accept the training then shortly after fail to work for them, in that case, they may be able to recoup the training cost.)
The above is only a general answer: you also have to read the precise language of the contract carefully, since all contracts are governed by their specific terms.

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