When Do Companies Have to Notify Job Applicants?

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When job applicants don't hear back from an employer, it can be upsetting. It takes time to apply for a job, from researching the company through creating a targeted resume and cover letter, and it can feel frustrating to not get a response. Yet it's very common for companies to not notify applicants when they are rejected for a job. In fact, you might even interview with the company and never hear back. 

It can seem like your application disappeared into a job search black hole. Find out why companies shy away from sharing hiring status with candidates, when they must disclose information, and how to follow up during the application process. 

Legal Requirements for Notifying Job Applicants

In most cases, employers are not legally required to notify applicants that they have not been accepted for a job.

However, most human resource experts agree that best practices indicate that the ethical protocol for employers is to notify all applicants of their status.

Failure to do so might discourage applicants from considering the employer for other, more suitable vacancies and might also create a negative impression of the organization with the applicant's associates. In many industries, applicants are also customers or potential customers and most employers want to avoid alienating their patrons.

Reasons Why A Company Doesn't Notify Applicants

Usnews.com interviewed company leaders and hiring managers to find out the reasons they avoid sending rejection letters. Here's why:

  1. Volume: Companies receive an average of 250 resumes per position. It's tough enough to deal with the bulk of those emails, let alone respond to each person individually with a rejection. 
  2. Fear of a lawsuit: A rejection letter could potentially bring on legal action, depending on how it's written. From an employers' standpoint, it can seem better to send no letter at all than risk a potential lawsuit.
  3. Unwanted Communication: A rejection letter coming from a specific employee with contact information (i.e., name and email) can spark unwanted ongoing communication from the applicant, asking about applying again for another position, or feedback on where the interview went wrong. Multiply that by 250 rejections, and it's a hassle HR managers want to avoid.

There are other reasons companies may hold off on notifying applicants. In some cases, the company may change directions, and decide not to fill the position anymore. The posting may be removed from the website, but typically, the company won't inform applicants of these internal workings. Sometimes, companies hold off on rejecting applicants because the position is still open. The company might want to keep their options open. The company may interview several people, and offer the job to one, but hold off on rejecting all applicants in case the first-choice candidate does not accept the position.  

Federal Government Notification Requirements

In 2009, the federal government established requirements for agencies to notify candidates of their status during the screening process as part of its "end-to end hiring initiative."

Notification must take place at least four times during the process - upon receipt of the application when the application is evaluated against the requirements for the job, when a decision is made about whether to refer the candidate to the selecting official and when the final employment decision is made.

Background Screening and Employment Tests

Employers who reject applicants based on background screening and employment tests must notify applicants if they have been rejected based on any information secured through that process.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act stipulates that candidates have the right to dispute any damaging information contained in their report. Kmart reached a settlement in a class action suit in 2013 to resolve claims that it failed to notify and give applicants ample opportunity to respond to negative background checks.

How to Follow Up

In can be hard to follow up when you have applied for a job. Many employers don't list contact information, email addresses, or phone numbers.

You can try to find a contact at the company or you can wait. It's easier to follow up directly after an interview, and it's always a good idea to do so.

If you do interview for a position, always ask during your interview when you can expect to hear from the company. Then, after that time frame passes, you can send an email or call to find out the status. You might not get a response, but at least you will have followed up.