When should a candidate for a job ask about benefits and compensation? It’s a key question many companies and human resource professionals are asking following a high-profile case of an applicant who lost out on a second interview after she asked about benefits and compensation.

On March 12, the applicant, Taylor Byrnes, tweeted a screenshot of her email exchange with the talent acquisition co-ordinator of online food delivery company SkipTheDishes. The email exchange showed that after her first interview, Byrnes emailed talent acquisition co-ordinator Victoria Karras and asked how much the position paid and whether it included benefits. Karras replied that Byrnes’ questions revealed “her priorities are not in sync” with the company’s and, as a result, there would be no second interview.

Have your say: Did SkipTheDishes have any justification for what it did?

Karras then sent another email clarifying the reason for cancelling the second interview. She acknowledged that while Byrnes’ questions about compensation and benefits were valid, the company seeks out candidates who “believe in hard work and perseverance in pursuit of company goals, as opposed to focusing on compensation.” Karras also noted a concern that Byrnes had asked about compensation and benefits at such an early stage of the recruitment process.

After Byrnes tweeted out the repercussions of her question, SkipTheDishes received backlash on social media for the incident. On March 13, the company’s co-founder Joshua Simair apologized for the email and offered Byrnes a second interview.

Read: What work-life balance benefits do employees value most?

Despite the apology, the human resources snafu had already tainted the company’s image and incited many people’s opinions on social media, says Barbara Bowes, president at Legacy Bowes Group, a human resources consulting and recruiting firm in Winnipeg. “It shows how fragile your public image can be and how quickly it can fall. HR professionals really do play a key role in maintaining corporate brand by their practices in recruiting and in anything else.”

The question was appropriate, and human resources shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions, says Bowes. “A lot of young people and frontline workers don’t think they have the right to ask that question, but in management positions, you always ask.”

Employers need to be as transparent as possible when it comes to their compensation, especially when it comes to millennials, says Bowes, adding that with the ease of online job postings, companies should be able to share plenty of information.

Read: Sweatworking can boost recruitment and team-building processes

“I think companies need to be more forthright, honest and open in their ads on social media so millennials know what they’re getting into. You don’t have to spell each benefit out, but you can give a salary range and you can indicate the job comes with salary and benefits,” says Bowes.

While it’s fine for applicants to ask about benefits and compensation, Byrnes should have perhaps waited until the second interview before she asked the questions, says Ashleigh Brown, regional manager at staffing agency Robert Half. “I know she waited after the first interview, so maybe in her mind it’s appropriate to bring it up, but I still err on the side of caution to let that come out in the interview process.”

For some employers, the question may put them off, says Brown, noting there are more delicate ways to bring the issue up than asking about it bluntly in an email. “It’s not to say you couldn’t bring it up in the first interview, but I always go by the ebb and flow of the discussion.”

Read: Stay interviews touted as better way to address staff concerns

According to Brown, a recent Robert Half survey found that while 38 per cent of senior managers said it’s fine for job applicants to ask about compensation and benefits in the first interview, 25 per cent said they should wait for the second meeting.

Applicants need to assess the situation and let the issue come up naturally, says Brown. For instance, the applicant could have done some research, listed her skills and asked the employer what wage she foresaw considering her qualifications, says Brown.

Despite the outcome, Bowes says the situation is a lesson for human resources professionals. “A lot of HR somehow see their role as separate from the marketing component of business. But this is a good lesson for HR people that what we do, how we do it, what we say and what action we take reflects on the company, and it can destroy the brand image in a second.”

Read: Court decisions reinforce need for benefits communications policy

The issue is the subject of this week’s online poll. Did SkipTheDishes have any justification for what it did or did it go too far in denying the interview? Don’t forget to have your say.

Last week’s poll referred to a new report that found switching to over-the-counter medication for three prescription drug classes (proton pump inhibitors, oral contraceptives and erectile dysfunction treatment) could produce $1 billion in annual changes. Sharing their views on whether this change is a good idea, 89 per cent of respondents agreed it is, saying doing so would improve access to drugs at a lower cost. Some 11 per cent disagreed, saying the potential for misdiagnosis, misuse and adverse events is too great.

Read: Switching to over-the-counter drugs could save $1B annually: report

Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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