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To (Outside) Hire or Re-Hire

That is the question some employers are asking as the economy continues to improve and companies consider adding back to payroll. Both approaches have their advantages.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014
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As the recovery continues its uphill climb and the economic picture is slowly looking better, employers are returning to their hiring ways.

This puts a magnifying glass on one approach to hiring that has its advocates and its detractors: taking an employee back who voluntarily left your company.

Employers are as mixed as recruiting experts and employment attorneys on whether this is a good idea or not. A recent Business Insider story notes Apple employees are allowed to quit their jobs, but if they come back in two years, they don't lose their position at the company, or their seniority.

Bloomberg, on the other hand, "tells current employees to shun anyone who leaves the company," likening them to traitors, according to author Jay Yarow.

Then there's Clifton Park, N.Y.-based Annese & Associates, an integrated communications-systems provider, that stands so strongly behind its policy to rehire employees who left the company that it publicized this practice in a March 11 release about four such employees.

"The return to Annese by these great people is a testament to our company's culture and benefits, and the open-mindedness of its leadership and management," Ray Apy, Annese's president and CEO, says in the release. "We ... understand that it is human nature to assess for one's self whether or not the grass is any greener on the other side."

Citing the TLNT blog, the release spells out the pros of rehiring past employees:

* They don't require training like new employees would.

* There are no recruiting costs for the company.

* Rehired employees are familiar with the company procedures and culture.

* Loyalty is likely to have increased -- former employees have seen what's out there in the world and have chosen to return.

* They can provide valuable intelligence and fresh perspectives from their prior companies.

While all this may be true, Wayne Pinkstone, a Princeton, N.J.-based partner with Fox Rothschild, cautions there are some landmines employers going this route need to avoid.

Even now, some six years after the start of the Great Recession, many employers are just starting to open positions back up that were left vacant in furloughs and layoffs. Many view rehiring as a safe first step toward increasing payroll for the very reasons itemized above. Obviously, the workers let go in these moves did not leave of their own accord, but hiring back entire groups of former employees could open employers up to potential discriminatory practices if they're not careful, says Pinkstone.

"The issues you need to watch include who's being selected for those rehires," he says. "Make sure you're not favoring one group over another. Also, if a union exists in the organization, there will be contractual clauses governing which employees are eligible to be hired back."

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Companies that don't involve human resource leaders in every step of such rehiring campaigns are asking for trouble, says Pinkstone. "[HR professionals] know about discrimination and all the ways anti-discrimination laws apply to the application and hiring phase."

And if they don't, they know the legal counsel to ask. Bottom line, he says, HR needs to make sure rehiring decisions "are justified and researched."

Even in the case of a single rehire, he adds, it all depends on the situation.

"I think it would be difficult to have a general, across-the-board policy to do either, hire [someone who willingly left your company] or never hire, Pinkstone says. "You may have an employee who up and left without proper notice or left everything in disarray. You may have someone who wasn't performing well and decided to leave before being let go. Why would you want that person back?"

As he always tells his clients, "Let's look at the person and whether it's someone who is truly going to add value," he says.

The merits of taking an employee back "are undeniable and there's nothing wrong with going this route," he adds, "particularly if it was amicable and involves someone who filled a specific role when he or she was there that you're now looking at filling."

Just be careful you're not arbitrarily selecting a particular group of people – young, for instance, or of one ethnicity over another, says Pinkstone.

More importantly, he adds, be careful who you're not asking back in those group rehires.

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