Company Rescinds Job Offer After Candidate Asks Online Forum if He Should Accept It

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By Caryn Freeman

May 28 — In another example of something that was unimaginable before the age of social media, an employer rescinded a job offer after the candidate asked an online forum whether he should accept that offer or one from another company.

The would-be entry-level software engineer crowd-sourced his employment decision on Quora, a question-and-answer website. With offers from two San Francisco-based companies—Uber, a private car service accessed from a mobile phone app, and Zenefits, an online service that automates human resources functions—the candidate asked which he should accept, publicly weighing the pros and cons of each offer, and revealing that he ultimately would prefer to work at Apple or Google.

Representatives from both companies responded to the post, but in very different ways. Mark Rogowsky, head of communications at Uber, responded by highlighting Uber's growth strategy and how the candidate fit into the company's vision. Parker Conrad, Zenefits founder and CEO, on the other hand, personally responded to the inquiry by posting “Definitely not Zenefits,” and rescinding the job offer.

Ken Baer of Crosscut Strategies, the public relations firm handling media inquires for Zenefits, confirmed to Bloomberg BNA May 21 that Conrad did indeed post the now deleted comments on Quora. He told Bloomberg BNA that “Parker stands by his comments.”

The whole issue caused a social media firestorm and raised some important questions for employers: What do you do when a job candidate goes public with a job offer? Can you prevent it? Can it be turned into something positive?

Missed Branding Opportunity

David Brudenell, global vice president and head of digital at Universum, a global employer branding firm, told Bloomberg BNA in a May 27 e-mail that the candidate's social media postings and the responses he received to his query could have been handled better, and even offered a chance for the employers to boost their brands.

“This was a wasted free research opportunity by both companies to simply listen to what the talent market thought of their companies, interviewing processes and external employer brand,” he said. “What both companies forgot is that Quora is a place for people, not brands and employers. With a quick search of Zenefits, this event is now the third [most] referenced piece of content and Quora, the highly indexed site, will likely appear on the first page search results for Zenefits for a long time.”

Brudenell added that the experience also could have increased other potential employees' desire to work at Zenefits over Google and Apple. “Additionally, there might have been an opportunity to capture some critical insight to potentially change preference flow and turn Google and Apple employees to consider Zenefits as an employer of choice,” he said.

Brudenell explained that because both Uber and Zenefits are high-valuation startups, he doesn't believe that the responses ultimately hurt their employer brands, but he cautioned that this type of response would have been damaging for less established companies.

“For most employers, an event like this will be like an old tattoo that they wished they never got,” Brudenell said. “An event like this would be a regrettable topic of conversation for most employer brands for a very long time.”

Ban Social Media Use?

Bradley S. Shear advises state and federal lawmakers on technology law and worked with the Maryland state legislature to draft the state's social media law that limits employer access to employees' social media passwords. Shear, a digital privacy lawyer with Shear Law LLC in Bethesda, Md., told Bloomberg BNA May 26 that although many candidates have a “robust digital profile” and discuss things “in a manner that people five, 10 or 15 years older would not anticipate,” employers should stop short of asking candidates to refrain from discussing an employment offer on social media.

“It's best to focus a written offer letter on the basics such as salary, position and who [the candidate] will report to,” he said. “When you start putting in other things, it might create a situation that you might not anticipate. Every situation is different, but it's best that employers don't start wading into ‘until you're hired you should stay off of Twitter.' I think we are going to start seeing more of these situations, but at this point in time I don't think it's a great idea for companies to try and regulate how a candidate interacts online until they actually become an employee.”

Attorney Mary Goodrich Nix, equity shareholder with Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr, P.C. in Dallas, told Bloomberg BNA in a May 27 e-mail that offer letters should always be drafted as conditional and should state “that the offer is revocable at any time.”

“A company can also specifically condition an offer on any number of circumstances, including refraining from specific types of conduct such as commenting about the status of a job offer,” she said. “An employer should be diligent to ensure that any offer provided is an offer for at-will employment, is not guaranteed and does not unintentionally include a guaranteed term.”

Company Culture

According to Shear, ultimately how employers handle these types of situations comes down to company culture and what attributes they are looking for in employee.

“In this matter there were two different philosophies on how to handle this issue, and neither one of them is wrong,” he said. “There are some jobs where a company really wants to have someone that is decisive. This person is literally crowd-sourcing an important decision.” When the employer looks at the bigger picture, beyond the social media posting, it could simply reject the candidate based on not being a good fit for the company, Shear said, and “that is perfectly acceptable.”

Meanwhile, the Uber/Zenefits situation is not the first time a candidate has had a job offer rescinded for social media comments. A 2009 tweet by a would-be Cisco employee resulted in a rescinded job offer after the candidate tweeted: “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.”

A representative from Cisco responded to the candidate's Tweet: “Who is the hiring manager? I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Caryn Freeman in Washington at cfreeman@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com