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5 Legal Tips for Rejection Letters, Emails

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

A Cleveland woman's rejection email went viral and sparked a firestorm of rage against Kelly Blazek, the head of a popular local job bank listserv who sent the job seeker a scathing rejection letter.

Blazek -- an HR executive, no less -- learned the hard way that writing an ill-begotten rejection letter or rejection email can come back to haunt you, especially when the spurned recipient turns to social media (in this case, Reddit, Imgur, and Facebook) to call you out. In some cases, a poorly worded rejection letter can even be the basis for a lawsuit.

One simple solution for business owners: Just don't send rejection letters at all, as many firms are doing, according to U.S. News. But if you still want to send a rejection letter or email, here are five tips you may want to consider:

  1. Be succinct. You'll notice that Blazek's rejection rant does not keep it nice and simple and straight to the point. She certainly gets her point across, but a more succinct approach could potentially have saved her from lambasting the job applicant and exposing her to potential legal consequences.
  2. Don't be specific about why he or she didn't get the job. You don't owe a rejected job applicant an explanation about why someone else was hired. Keep it general. Lawsuits may be prompted by perceptions that the reasons proffered were a pretext for something more legally dubious such as unlawful discrimination.
  3. Don't mention the experience and qualifications of other candidates. Don't say that you went with someone who is more qualified or that you had a pool of candidates who were more qualified. If a rejected employee pursues legal action, his or her lawyer may ask for the applications of the employee who was hired along with the other top candidates.
  4. Don't make empty promises. Avoid reflexively making statements like "We'll keep your resume on file for future openings" or "Please apply for future openings" -- unless you really mean it. 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.
  5. Show respect. This is the golden rule in every aspect of life, and the cardinal employment sin that Blazek committed. Blazek was understandably frustrated from getting spammed by job applicants. But rejection is hard and rubbing salt on the wound by being mean about it will only breed ill will, resentment, and a potential desire for legal revenge. 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.

When penning a rejection letter, think of Blazek: Your reputation as an employer is affected by this applicant's opinion and the opinions of the people who hear this applicant's opinion. Besides, it's more fun to be nice.

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