be quite gestureTo tell or not to tell? That is the question with some legal and HR experts disagreeing whether it is kinder to tell an applicant why they were rejected for a job or smarter never to communicate with the person once the decision has been made.

Writing at FindLaw.com, Attorney Aditi Mukherji says human resources people should not follow up on the issue of rejection because correspondence on the issue that’s not written well could be the basis for legal action. He says, “One simple solution for business owners: Just don’t send rejection letters at all as many firms are doing, according to U.S. News.”

That article says, “The decrease in employer response to job applicants may be a natural consequence of the faceless online applicant tracking system, but also the result of a greater fear. ‘With today’s recession bringing more employment lawsuits, your company’s applicant rejection letters could be very costly if written in a way that could spark legal action,’ warns George Lenard, the originator of George’s Employment Blawg.”

Mukherji offers five tips if people absolutely feel like they want to send rejection letters. In his advice he cites the story of a Cleveland headhunter named Kelly Blazek who attained notoriety after berating a recent graduate for wanting to link up on LinkedIn.

  • Be succinct. Mukherji writes that a succinct approach could prevent future legal troubles – and don’t spend time lambasting an applicant.
  • Don’t be specific about why he or she didn’t get the job. He advises, “Keep it general. Lawsuits may be prompted by perceptions that the reasons offered were a pretext for something more legally dubious such as unlawful discrimination.”
  • Don’t mention the experience and qualifications of other candidates. If a lawyer pursues legal action against your company, you could be forced to prove why other candidates were better qualified and face repercussions if they are not judged so by legal standards.
  • Don’t make empty promises. Mukherji says, “You could be vulnerable to legal consequences if you lose or misplace the resume. The same might happen if you give the impression the applicant is qualified for a future opening, only to hand him or her a string of rejections.”
  • Show respect. “One of the best ways to avoid legal action is to treat people like, you guessed it, people. Don’t underestimate the value of being respectful, even on the faceless Internet,” Mukherki writes.

Of course, there are those who feel all applicants should get told why they were not hired after an interview (or series of interviews). Susan Heathfield, who writes about human resources for About.com, says, “How you treat candidates for your jobs really matters. Sending a candidate rejection letter to the applicants who were not selected for the job is an extra, but positive step, your company can take to build good will with candidates and establish yourself as an employer of choice.”

As Heathfield and other experts say it’s all about building your company’s brand. Even a rejected job seeker can have a positive feeling about your firm – and share that impression with others – if the rejection is handled well. “Your reputation, built one candidate at a time, is critical to your ongoing ability to attract the best and most skilled talent to your firm. Candidates make decisions about your company based on their treatment and officially notifying them about your employment decisions is a point in your favor,” writes Heathfield.

Of course, those rejections do need to be balanced against the legal concerns. So, it all boils down to this: write nicely worded, positive rejection letters but realize if you slip up, you could still get sued. In the words of one great wit, “No good deed goes unpunished.”



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