In-House Counsel: Don't Let HR Send Nasty Rejection Letters

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on March 04, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Kelly Blazek, the employment director of a popular local job bank listserv, experienced the public's wrath for the scathing rejection letter she sent to a Cleveland woman in response to her Jobvite request. The rejected applicant certainly got the last laugh when she posted the rejection email on various social media platforms and it went completely viral.

It's a good example of how nasty rejection letters can harm a company's reputation and goodwill in the community. Alas, employee email isn't as private as you'd like to believe.

Here are five ways in-house counsel can keep a rejection letter or email in the legal clear:

  1. Ensure the letters are short and sweet. If only Blazek had an in-house attorney to pare down her rejection rant to a straightforward, pithy response. Keeping the letter short will help rein in any temptations to make inappropriate comments and limit the company's exposure to potential legal liability.
  2. Limit employees from providing detailed feedback to rejected job applicants. Lawsuits may be prompted by perceptions that the reasons proffered were a pretext for something more legally dubious such as unlawful discrimination. If an employee feels it's most appropriate to provide the rejected applicant with an explanation for the hiring decision, encourage a general response.
  3. Don't let hiring managers make empty promises. It's always tempting to soften the rejection blow by adding a quick "We'll keep your resume on file!" That could spell legal trouble for the company if it loses or misplaces the applicant's file. Also avoid the common "We encourage you to apply to future job openings!" closing statement. Unless the hiring manager really means it, such false flattery could give the applicant the impression that he or she is qualified for some kind of job with the company. After facing a string of rejections, the frustrated applicant may turn to legal action.
  4. Help hiring managers filter "spammy" applicants. Apparently, Blazek's tirade was borne from frustration. She gets countless requests a day from people. The spamming got the best of her. Try to help ease this frustration by adopting helpful spam-filtering technology. But also remind the manager that no amount of frustration warrants a highly inappropriate response.
  5. Have a protocol for handling inappropriate rejection responses. If your company had Blazek berzerk moment, how would it handle the issue? Your company should have a social media disaster plan in place as well as a way of handling the offending employee. For example, the employer of Justine Sacco, the person behind the AIDS Twitter "joke" disaster, opted for immediate termination.

Above all, remind your hiring managers to show respect to rejected applicants. The company's reputation as an employer is affected by an applicant's opinion and the opinions of the people who hear the applicant's opinion.

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