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Sunday, September 13, 2009

can employer reject me because of my commute time?

A reader writes:

I recently applied for a job for which my skills ticked all of the boxes. The salary was described as "highly negotiable" (with no equivalent industry salaries available) and was based in London (an 80 minute commute from my house).

Over the course of 2 weeks, I took part in 11 one-2-one interviews, either by phone, or in person, and both salary and working hours were discussed.

After this process, I was informed that I had not been offered the job. When I asked for feedback, I was told (in these words): "It ultimately came down to logistics (commute time) and salary demand. We were able to secure another candidate that fit our needs at this time. "

I have already responded to this email to inform them that I didn't believe commute time was their choice to make.

I would be interested to know if you have any advice on the legal ramifications (if any) of this, and if you have any advice about how to handle "negotiable" salaries which obviously aren't!

Eleven interviews?


I don't know what that's about, but it would definitely have me wondering if these people have their act together.

In any case, in answer to your question, maybe the laws on this are different in the UK than they are here, but I don't know of any law that would prevent an employer from taking commute time into consideration. I live in an area where an 80-minute commute time wouldn't be considered prohibitive, but I've certainly been concerned about candidates with longer commute times -- because it can get wearying and expensive and make people want to find something closer to home. When I have the concern, I'll usually just ask the candidate about it and see what they say -- if they've done it before and are used to it, that might set me at ease; if they haven't, it might remain a concern for me.

While in one sense you're right that if you're willing to do it, they shouldn't make the decision for you, but it's certainly legitimate for an employer to look at context like this and factor it into their decision. Maybe they've had bad experiences before with people quitting because their commutes became too much. You're right that it's not "fair" to have someone else's experience held against you, but hiring isn't a strictly "fair" process; it's all a series of judgment calls.

On the issue of whether they misrepresented things when they said that salary was negotiable: I don't see that they did. Just because they ultimately went with a candidate with a lower salary demand than yours doesn't mean that they wouldn't have been willing to pay more for the right candidate, or that the person they ultimately hired didn't ask for more than what they'd originally hoped to pay.

I think that, overall, you're taking personally something that isn't personal, and looking for some kind of strict fairness in a process that is more about them figuring out their needs than fairness to every candidate.


Rachel - former HR blogger said...

I would seriously think about hiring someone with an 80 minute commute. I have employees now who have hour long commutes - every one of them complains and looks for closer work (even if they've done it in the past or said in the interview it was no problem).

HRD said...

I can maybe step in on the UK legal issues here. Simply, there is nothing to prevent an employer using this as a means for deselection unless it was combined with something else i.e. ability to commute and carry out caring duties with a young family or ability to commute because of disability making the journey take longer etc.

As someone who commutes two hours each way into London every day, I have some sympathy. I had to work hard to convince the CEO at interview that I could cope with the commute and use the time constructively. That said, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone unless the job was really really worth it.

Kerry Scott said...

When I lived in Los Angeles and Washington, DC, an 80-minute commute would have been considered no big deal.

Here in Milwaukee, no one would hire you. A normal commute here is 20 minutes, and anything longer than 30 ends up being a retention issue. Of course, we have more severe winters here than in LA/DC (or London), but still.

I sympathize on the eleven interviews. For my last job, I went through 16. I ended up getting the job...but the runner up had also done 16 interviews. I STILL feel bad for that guy.

KP said...

When I read the introduction to this article I thought that it was a comment on the atrocious performance of Wellington trains. I agree with Rachel, this could become an issue of retention and motivation.
If it is the only reason that the candidate is not suitable, then as a manager you can only logically select the candidate and address the problem if it arises through performance meetings.
As the candidate, the job would have to be the dream job. Otherwise you really would be looking locally for the shorter commute.

Unknown said...

As a fellow Londoner, I used to have a 90-minute commute and have been told by job centre staff that I should consider anything up to 2hrs away and legally can lose benefits if I don't take a job within a 90-minute radius (unless there were other factors such as disability or family responses), so this seems crazy.