Unless the offer letter was signed by you and consttitutes a contract, you can quit before you start. The jilted employer can bad mouth you but not much else. This could be different if prior to you starting you were given confidential information such that it might be require the employer to invoke the non - compete.
If you'd like to discuss, please feel free to call. Jeff Gold Gold, Benes, LLP 1854 Bellmore Ave Bellmore, NY 11710 Telephone -516.512.6333 Email - Jgold@goldbenes.com
I cannot give you an opinion without looking at your agreement. Speaking generally, however, if an employee has an at will agreement, he or she can quit at any time without liability. Furthermore, and again speaking generally, if an individual does not actually work for the employer, there is no legitimate business to be protected and the non compete is probably not enforceable.
Of course, this does not mean that an employer in such a case would not take legal action, even if it has no grounds to do so. I had a client in a similar situation where the employee threatened a lawsuit but it never took any legal action.
Again, no one can, or should, give you an opinion without looking at your agreement and reviewing all the facts. I recommend you consult with an experienced employment attorney. many of us, myself included, will provide a free initial consultation.
This answer is provided for informational purposes only and should not be relied on as legal advice. You should be aware that no attorney-client relationship is established through this answer and none will be established without a personal consultation and the signing of an engagement agreement.
An employment contract is not completely at will without bounds. The law imposes some bounds and your contract imposes some bounds. Your characterization of it as completely at will without bounds is preposterous. We would need to see the contract in order to know what the bounds are. The contract might very well specified that you will start work on a certain date and that the employer can recover damages if you do not do so. Obviously if you have contracted to work for them and then do not work for them. They suffer damages. They may very well be able to come back at you for damages. Take the contract to a contract lawyer or an employment lawyer and have it reviewed. There is nothing we can do for you here without seeing the contract.
I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.