job candidates who won’t talk salary, demoted after maternity leave, and more

It’s five short answers to five short questions. Here we go…

1. Job candidates who won’t share what salary range they want

How do you respond to applicants who won’t give you their desired salary range? I had two open positions recently, and when I called two applicants to discuss the positions, I asked each for their salary range. One applicant just flat-out refused to answer. Her application indicated she was currently making over 1$00k, and this job would pay $40-50k a year, so I wanted to be sure that would work for her, but she kept refusing to even give a range – not even to say, “I’m currently making X, but I’m open to something in the Y-Z range.” She just kept saying, “Well, it all depends on the job responsibilities…” I kept saying that I understood, “but the range is A to B. Would that work for you?” She kept dancing around the question.

It’s like they were thinking that if they agreed on a range, then they’d have no room to negotiate. I was clear with both that we couldn’t go higher than $50k, no exceptions, and when I asked if that was acceptable, they kept replying, “Well, I think that if you bring me in to interview, you’ll see all that I have to offer your organization.” And I’d say, “That may be; unfortunately, our salary range isn’t negotiable. Is this something that would work for you?” And again both applicants would tell me about all the experience they have, and wouldn’t commit to an answer.

I’ve been burned a couple of times with bringing candidates in, going through several interviews, and having them ultimately reject the job offer because it wasn’t in line with what they were looking for. I don’t want to bring a candidate in without knowing this info, and frankly, this applicant’s refusal to answer resulted in my moving on to other applicants. What are your thoughts?

Yep, I’d move on to other candidates too, and I’d let them know why. It’s absolutely understandable that candidates don’t want to throw out a number first, because they don’t want to inadvertently undercut themselves if you would otherwise have offered them more. However, you were already telling them what you planned to pay and simply wanted to know if that was prohibitive for them or not. The refusal to answer that is obnoxious, especially combined with that crap about “if you bring me in, I’ll wow you so much that your budgeted salary range won’t matter.” You were being straightforward with them, and you have just as right to be annoyed by this as candidates do when employers play salary games with them.

It’s reasonable to confirm that you’re on the same page about salary before spending your time and theirs on lengthier interviews — as long as you’re willing to share your own range, as you did. (It’s not reasonable when employers want this to be one-sided, with the candidate giving a number while the employer stays silent.)

2. I was demoted after my maternity leave

I had a baby a few months ago and just returned to work after 8 weeks of short-term disability, followed by 5 weeks of PTO. Just prior to my leave, a replacement was hired to take over my position as supervisor of a small department of hourly workers. I knew she was being hired and had agreed on a new role with my general manager. I do not get anything in writing, but several other members of management were aware of the change.

On my first day back, I was informed I would be assuming the duties of one of the employees I used to manage. I no longer have an office and since I’m breast feeding, I have to utilize the file room to pump twice a day. The assignment is supposed to be temporary, “to help fill a void,” and after a month I will transition to my new role. To add insult to injury, some of the personal belongings I left in my old office (because I was under the impression I’d be returning to it) have gone missing. The new supervisor boxed my things up and dumped them in a supply closet.

Is it legal to return from maternity leave and be temporarily demoted? My pay has not changed and I am still considered part of the management team. I have not escalated the issue to HR or anyone at a higher management level because I am concerned it will hurt me more in the long run.

You’d need to talk to a lawyer to be certain about the details in your case, but in general, no, it’s not legal to demote someone upon their return from maternity leave — unless the employer can show that the demotion was unrelated to the pregnancy and leave. (For example, if the employer can show they would have demoted you anyway, because of performance or other issues, that’s not pregnancy discrimination.) Absent unrelated reasons, they must return you to the position you held before taking leave or an equivalent position. And that doesn’t just mean pay, but also job status (like authority, responsibilities, and prestige). That said, I’m not sure how the fact that this is a temporary, one-month arrangement might impact the legality here, and you’d need a lawyer to tell you for sure. (But either way, since it’s only for one month, I suspect that you’re right that raising it would hurt more than help you in the long-tun.)

3. My manager didn’t show up for a conference call so we proceeded anyway

I recently scheduled a conference call with myself, my boss, and a few coworkers who work remotely. After a few minutes, my boss – whose presence was not crucial to the conversation – had not dialed in, so I decided to proceed with the call with everyone else on the line. A few hours later, he forwarded the meeting notice to me with a note that he had been waiting for me to come to his office and had just realized the meeting was a conference call. He is now asking me to reschedule; I guess he thinks we tabled the meeting without him. What would have been the proper thing to do? Ask the others to hold while I track down my boss, or proceed as I did?

It varies by culture and by manager. Some managers would have assumed you’d proceed without them; some would be shocked that you didn’t. Absent any information about the culture and taking you at your word that your manager’s presence wasn’t needed for the conversation, there’s nothing wrong with proceeding without him; it might have made a ton of sense to do that. But there’s really no useful answer here without knowing more about your manager and culture, because those are the determinative factors in how this kind of thing is perceived.

As for what to do now, I’d simply say, “We figured you got tied up with something else and went ahead and talked over X, Y, and Z. In the future, would you like us to reschedule if you don’t join the call, or move forward like we did here?”

4. What does this email from a hiring manager mean?

I finished my final interview on December 17 and it felt perfect. The conversations went very well and I felt confident with each of my answers. I realize that in late December things slow down a bit for the holidays. The employer let me know of this and had told me that she hoped to be in touch before the new year.

I ended up reaching out to check in and this was her response: “Happy New Year! Thanks for reaching out. I was hoping to be in touch this week with our final decision on filling the position but unfortunately, there have been some delays. I will follow up with you next week (if not sooner) with an update. Thanks so much for your patience.”

My question is how to interpret this. Why would it take so long to hear a simple “we are pursuing other candidates” or “we have decided to extend you an offer”? I would greatly appreciate your insight.

You should interpret it as meaning that there have been some delays and she hopes to follow up with you next week with updated information. In other words, it means exactly what it says, no more and no less. It doesn’t say that they’re rejecting you or making you an offer, because they haven’t decided either of those things yet.

They might be waiting to interview other candidates. They might be checking references. They might have an offer out to someone else and be waiting to hear if it’s accepted (and you might be their second or third choice if it’s not). They might be resolving questions that came up about the position itself. They might not be working on anything hiring-related at all right now because they have other priorities. Who knows? All we know is what her email said, and you should take that at face value.

5. Disciplined for comments made off the clock

Can an employer write you up for comments made off the clock on a break and outside of your building ?

They sure can. An employer can write you up because you wore a green shirt while you were home on your couch last weekend, if they want to. That’s not likely, of course. More practically speaking, when people get in trouble for off-the-clock behavior, it’s usually because the employer believes the behavior impacted work in some way, such as harassing comments made to a coworker outside of work, representing the company poorly to customers, etc.

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