Dear Dr. Spilchuk…
Is Accepting a Position by eMail Legally Binding?
Dear Dr. Spilchuk,
I found your email address on the International Schools Review web site. I would like to ask you some questions with regards to an International School teaching contract.
I was interviewed at a recruitment fair by the principal of an international school and subsequently I was offered a teaching position. I did, however, have some reservations about having to pay for the airfare and visa application up front and I questioned the director a couple of times by email about when and how I would be reimbursed.
The director indicated that I would be reimbursed at the end of the first month of the contract. I accepted the offer of employment by email. Since then I have received the contract to be signed and returned to the school, which I have not done. Upon reviewing my financial situation, I found that I could not afford to pay for the airfare and visa up front with only a promise of reimbursement. Is my acceptance of the teaching position by email legally binding? Am I now able to refuse the position indicating my inability to pay for the airfare and visa? What would the consequences be, if any, for refusing the position after having only accepted it by email?
I appreciate your assistance and time.
First off, are you a SEARCH or ISS candidate? This is critical information because if you are registered with either of these organizations, refusing a contract after agreeing by email to accept it could have very serious repercussions as both of these organizations will blackball teachers who renege on their contracts. They do so within their own organizations and they also have done so by notifying other organizations recruiting international teachers. This makes the situation for teachers who do not follow through on written/verbal contracts very difficult indeed!
Acceptance by email is legally binding. What you could do is to contact the Principal of the school, explain the situation to him/her and see if the school can prepay your airlines ticket and VISA. I can understand that the school may not want to cut you a check in advance because if you choose to not follow through on your commitment the school is then out money with no way to recoup. On the other hand they are not showing much confidence in you and this would make me question the quality of the school.
In my experience, most all schools supply you with visa money and airline tickets in advance of your departure. Most schools work with a travel agent that will make all the necessary arrangements, book your flight and forward your tickets to you. My hunch is that the school you are talking with has had bad experiences in the past with teachers not following through and this would make me a little suspicious concerning the nature and quality of the school. In consulting with members of the International Schools Review staff I discovered that none of them had ever had to purchase their air tickets out of their own money and then wait for reimbursement. One member reported that he actually received a check for six thousand dollars at the fair and was instructed to purchase tickets and visas for himself and family and keep whatever money was not spent.
I recommend you email the director and explain the situation. Ask him/her to have their travel agent make a reservation for you and forward by Internet the e-ticket. You can then also demonstrate good faith and handle the visa expenses on your end and be reimbursed upon arrival. I’m certain the director will realize your sincerity and efforts, understand your financial situation and thus be willing to help you.
Does this answer all of your questions? If not, come back to me for clarification.
Dear Dr. Spilchuk,
I sent an email to the principal of the India school to let him know that I would not be continuing with the contract. His response was that I had taken bad advice, international schools do reimburse fares and visas, and if I cannot keep my word then we should not continue. It is interesting that he did not comment about the discrepancies between his emails and the contract.
I feel relieved that I have declined this job even though the interview went well. My instincts kept telling me there was something not quite right with the whole thing. So I continue with the ongoing search for a job!
Thank you very much for your kindness and assistance. I appreciate it very much!
With kind regards,
Good for you! I’m glad this worked out and that this school has in no way negatively impacted your career.
Feel the love!
Responses to This Column
Hello. I just want to make a comment about your response to a person who accepted a position via email and wanted to know if it was legally binding. In your response you said, “In my experience, most all schools supply you with visa money and airline tickets in advance of your departure.”
I work at a very respected school and I was asked to pay for the visa, plane ticket & shipping out of pocket and then I was reimbursed in my first paycheck. This has been my first international assignment and I thought it was normal. I didn’t have the cash to pay for the plane ticket & shipping so I had to charge it on a credit card. But then I paid it off when I got my reimbursement from the school.
I am leaving shortly to take a position at another international school and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they do the Visa & plane ticket for me.
Anyway, I just thought I’d give you my perspective. I enjoy reading your advice.
Thanks so much for your response. It’s always good to have a multitude of perspectives from teachers in the field. Each time a teacher responds, others reading the column have more information upon which to base their decisions.