“Prospective employer broke its promise to pay interview-related expenses. What should I do?”

Question: My son-in-law traveled to a job interview in another state. The employer invited him to the interview, and told him he would be reimbursed for expenses. After spending three days interviewing, paying airfare, car rental, parking and meals, they told him they would only pay for three nights in a hotel plus $250. This leaves him still due $300.

This was his first interview after college, so he did not at all expect the employer to not honor its promise.

Should he still send them an invoice and receipts for the still-unpaid airfare, hotel, car rental, meals and parking fees? 

North Carolina

Answer: Lenny, it sounds to me like this might be a really good learning experience for a young employee, namely, that he must be very careful when relying on “spoken” promises, especially relating to the employment relation. Here are my thoughts:  

1. It sounds to me like a combination of “loose speaking” and “loose listening.” Since the promise of reimbursement was “spoken” and not “written,” no one can ever be sure of exactly what was promised. Was it “all your expenses” or “all your approved expenses,” or some other combination of “loose” words? Because no one can ever be sure of what was spoken – unless the spoken words were recorded – the issue must be handled with a good measure of diplomacy, for accusations that cannot be proven should never be made in the first place.    

2. Especially since the hiring decision has apparently not yet been made, I would suggest your son-in-law not do anything that might hurt his chances of getting hired. While I would never say that $300 is insignificant, because there have been times in my life when I did not have enough money for food, it is rather insignificant when compared with the good fortune of a young person getting a job in his or her chosen field. For this reason, as long as the hiring decision has not yet been made, I suggest your son-in-law not raise the issue for the time being. He is not going to miss any deadlines of any kind, and no one is ever going to say that by delay in raising the issue he has “waived” any rights.

3. If he gets the job, I’d suggest he forget about the “broken promise.” On the other hand, if he’s not hired, a simple, respectful request for the remainder of the reimbursement may be the best idea. If your son-in-law gets the job he wants from this employer, I’d counsel him “not to cry over spilled milk.” That’s because new relations are the most delicate of all relations, and the most vulnerable to damage or ruin. It’s like a newly sprouted plant. On the other hand, if he does not get hired, a written respectful request for the remainder of reimbursement is probably in order.

Note that I wrote “respectful” and “request.” Anything that sounds disrespectful or demanding might just end up unnecessarily burning a potential career bridge. Who knows? Your son-in-law might just want to apply to this company in the future. Who knows? The person who did not honor the promise of reimbursement might just be working for a different company in five years, and your son-in-law may just apply there for a new job.   

4. Either way, a lesson will hopefully be learned: “Get it confirmed, in details, in an email.” Hopefully, this will turn out to be a lesson learned, at a minimal cost: Before relying on a promise, get it confirmed, with details, in an email.” If this is the only time in his new career that your son-in-law gets “burned” by an employer’s broken promise, or “loose” words, it may well turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

Lenny, I hope this helps your son-in-law, and thanks for writing in. It’s my hope that your son-in-law will learn – and remember – this as an early, relatively inexpensive lesson. And it’s my hope, too, that he’ll become a Subscriber to our blog, so he can learn all the other lessons from the mistakes of others. Life’s too short to make all the mistakes by yourself!

Al Sklover

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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