Boomerangs and Prodigals

Whenever there is a high-profile termination in the news, the question that tends to arise is: “Should an organization consider someone rehiring a terminated employee?” Clearly, there can be both good and bad experiences rehiring someone has left the organization.

If someone has left voluntarily, it may appear to be an easy decision. Or is it? Employees who have left the organization under good terms and were valued for their contributions clearly have an advantage. Employees who were laid off because their jobs were eliminated are another example. They know the company and more importantly, the employer knows them, their skills and their work ethics. The Big Book of HR talks about companies that stay in touch with former employees. Maintaining such a relationship is a great recruitment strategy.

Corporate alumni networks can make it easier for former employees to become future employees. Alumni networks and systems provide a vehicle to recruit former employees or get referrals for other talent, as former staffers can view job openings on the site and share links with contacts via social networking sites. Former employees are attractive for several reasons:

they are more productive than completely new hires

they are easier to re-integrate into the firm

they are cheaper to recruit and hire (no external recruiters nor extended resume reviews)

they tend to have better retention rates because they have seen other less-attractive options.

On the other hand, there will be employees who resigned yet may not have left on the best of terms or been highly valued. There are also employees who have been asked to leave because of conduct or performance issues. In these circumstances, an organization should proceed with care.

If you are trying to decide to rehire an employee from this second group, first consider what the circumstances were that led to the termination? Rehiring might make sense if the employee had personal issues that have been resolved, was fired for poor performance but since has acquired new skills, or is applying for a position that suits them better.

It’s not necessarily having that short [organizational] memory but looking at a new situation and the facts that exist now when the decision is being made and not the facts that led to a prior decision. As with the employee who left in good standing, the advantage is that the employer is gaining someone who knows the organization and its culture. The learning curve may not be as steep as bringing in someone who is brand new.

Other questions she says HR should consider:

  • Was the termination challenged?
  • Was there an equal employment opportunity charge?
  • How would the rehire affect other employees?
  • Did the behavior that prompted the termination, such as chronic lateness, hurt co-workers?
  • Has the former employee maintained a good reputation within the community? In other words, he or she has not been bad-mouthing the employer.
  • Is the former employee returning to the same department or working in a different part of the company, where the employee’s history is unknown?
  • What kind of message are you sending if you rehire a fired employee? Could it be a morale booster because the employer is being perceived as fair, giving people an opportunity to recover from past mistakes?

Other considerations for the employer include:

Do you brief managers on how to respond to some of the employee questions that might arise about rehiring the fired employee so they do not say anything that breeches confidentiality or violates company policy?

Do you have some kind of communication guide so that everybody is saying the same thing if it is questioned, even if it’s to note that we’re not going to talk about an employee’s past history?

You may want to get some legal advice before entertaining bringing the person back in certain situations.

While the learning curve may be short, don’t attempt to shortcut the hiring process if there is some negative history. Consider all qualified candidates. Review these former employees as you would any new (unknown) hire. If there was a pattern of poor behavior in the past, can you determine if the pattern has been broken? If performance was the issue, is there evidence that the employee has gathered new skills or developed a better record with subsequent employers? Check recent references and gather as much information as you can so you can make an informed decision.

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