Casually dressed candidate threatens to sue

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Q:  I own a small retail store.  I often have customer service openings that I post on different local community sites.  Recently I had a role, where this new employee would have to work some nights or weekends.  I think that is pretty common in retail.  I interviewed four candidates.  One was very flexible and offered to work both weekend days.  Usually candidates will offer to work one, but not both.  I selected this woman because along with having some very strong customer service experience, she could really help me out for weekend coverage.  I gave the other candidates honest feedback.  One was dressed very casually for the interview. Another looked at her phone several times.  The other candidate was very strong but her weekend availability was very limited.  The one who I told was dressed too casually now says she plans to sue me!  Is that possible?  I will never give honest feedback again.  Candidates say they want it but they really don’t!  Should I stop sharing feedback?

A: I am sorry that this happened to you.  It sounds like you had a need for a customer service role, where the ability to work weekends was critical.  When a candidate expresses an interest in working both weekend days, that flexibility could help your business tremendously.  Especially in retail, weekends are often required.

Unfortunately a candidate can sue you for any reason.  Some believe we live in a litigious society.  However, assuming what you shared is complete and truthful, this candidate’s claim is likely frivolous.  Unless she can link your comments to a protected category (age, race, gender, disability, etc.), I don’t believe she would have a viable position.

From candidates, I hear the “I never know why I was turned down for the  job” complaint all the time.  When a business owner or hiring manager shares feedback in an honest way, it can backfire.  The most conservative approach is to inform a candidate that another more qualified candidate was selected.  I think you were intended to share helpful feedback.  I am assuming it was not based on a protected category.  Rejection can be difficult to take though and many of us don’t respond well to criticism, even though it may be constructive.

Many of us make comments when angry, then later, wish we could retract those statements.  There is a chance you will not be sued by this woman.  She may have threatened to sue when she felt angry and offended.  It is a good idea to keep accurate records of who applied, who you interviewed and who was selected.  If you hired a woman in this role, it would be difficult for the rejected candidate to make a case for gender discrimination.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.