Avoiding Problems with Letters to Applicants

Where’s the danger in sending a letter to an applicant you’re not going to hire? Or… should you send a letter to someone you’ve decided against hiring? Should you give a letter to an applicant you are offering a job? If you do send such letters, what should you include, and most important, what should you NOT include?

Why Send Letters

Q. Why send letters to applicants not hired — and to applicants you are hiring? Three important reasons:

1. Common courtesy. Applicants who make the effort to complete your application procedure deserve, at the very least, to know the employer’s reaction to their application. This applies especially to those applicants who get interviewed.

2. Protection to you. For applicants not hired, there is danger in making oral statements about the employment decision. Employers and supervisors doing job interviews and hiring tend to want to avoid making statements which could hurt the feelings of the applicants. An applicant who is a member of a protected class — a minority or a female, for example — who hears the words “I’m impressed with your qualifications” but then doesn’t get the job might believe the hiring decision was discriminatory. The value in sending a properly written letter to the applicants is it will contain no statements which could trap the employer in a discrimination action.

For applicants who are hired, there is danger in making oral statements about the terms of employment. One purpose of a letter to the new hire is to be sure both the employer and the new employee agree on the conditions of employment.

3. Documentation. A carefully written letter to applicants and to newly hired employees gives you additional documentation regarding employment decisions in case an applicant or new hire later files some kind of legal action stemming from the hiring process.

Content of Letters to Applicants

Q. What should you put in these letters?

Keep letters to applicants and new hires brief and to-the-point.

In letters to applicants not hired, do NOT try to lessen the hurt of rejection by writing such statements as “although you are very qualified…” or “we had a hard time choosing between you and another, because you were both equally qualified…” Such statements may open you to a charge of discrimination if the applicant you turn down (and praise as qualified) is a member of a protected class.

In letters to new hires do NOT put in any statement that implies a promise or condition that you do not intend to keep. Do NOT put in any statement that implies a long-term employment relationship (unless you intend such a promise) or permanent employment. DO include an employment-at-will statement, if you are an at-will employer and want to preserve your at-will status with the new employee.

See the Sample Letters by clicking through to our HR Law and Compliance Newsletter

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