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I applied as a software developer to a small to mid sized software company in Germany. Both my home and the company are in a relatively small town (~100k population) so there are not a lot, though some, of options where I can apply. I went through the interview process of said company. We had two meetings, the first of which was more the get to know type and the second one included several technical tests, including some programming exercise with their code base, which I beforehand solved at home. In the first meeting I told them that I wanted to work 75%, i.e. a 30h week, due to family restrictions. In the second meeting this was discussed again and I restated that I could only work 75%.

One day after the second meeting the company told me that they are offering me the job via email. The email stated that the decision was easy as all members agreed that I was very well suited for the job and would nicely fit their team. We scheduled a third meeting in which the exact details of the contract were to be discussed.

In the third meeting we discussed some little details and they told me that they would send me a exemplary contract with the exact salary. The agreed start date was 1.5 months from this meeting. In this meeting I told them that I would like to take parental leave for six months, six months after the start of the contract. They told me that that was no problem and the head of the company even told me that he thought it would be illegal to withdraw the job offer now (No kidding, I am not making this up...). In the third meeting only the head of the company and HR was present. In the other meetings many members of the company including the head of software development were present. I was open to some bargaining over the parental leave but it seemed to be fine so we did not bargain.

Well today they did withdraw their job offer. The rejection was basically worded as if there had never been a job offer. They stated that my intention to work 75% was the main reason for the rejection. My intention to take parental leave was not mentioned at all.

It seems obvious that the parental leave issue was the true reason for the rejection but they don't want to disclose this fact maybe due to fear of legal retaliation. This makes it obviously hard to honestly discuss the issue. My questions are now two fold, looking at the past and future:

Past:

  • Should I have acted differently throughout the interview process?
  • Especially should I have disclosed the intention to take parental leave at the first meeting or only after I signed the contract?
  • Do you think the company acted heinously or that this kind of behavior is just to be expected and normal in the industry?

Future:

  • How should I react? I have the phone number of the head of software development, who also send me the rejection. So I could contact him by phone, i.e. semi of the record, or contact him or other members of the company via email.
  • Is there any chance that I can still get the job?
  • I am probably not willing to actually take legal actions but I am still pretty annoyed. Is it wise to do anything else but to send a polite "standard" reply? I am especially annoyed by the dishonesty and the fact that I solved their relatively time consuming homework while I would have preferred to spend time with my newborn.

Context: I am male and live in Germany. The company is in Germany as well. In Germany one is entitled to parental leave, i.e. if I had signed the contract they would have been obliged to grant it.

  • @JoeStrazzere Sorry that this was unclear. The sentence was meant as true conditional, i.e. i did not receive a contract. In the third meeting they however told me that they would send me the contract details on the same day and that I could sign next week. – Jannick Oct 22 '18 at 20:52
  • "or only after I signed the contract?" Do you know if your right to that leave is protected by law? Would you be able to join the company, then inform them that you'll take X months of leave at date Y? // Have you tried reaching out to the people you interviewed with to get additional clarification from them on the reasons they wouldn't give you an offer? (I believe "withdrawn" is incorrect as you never got an actual contract so no actual offer beyond a verbal commitment. German laws would determine how binding the latter is.) – Lilienthal Oct 22 '18 at 21:21
  • @Lilienthal The right to leave is protected by law. The parent is obliged to inform the company 7 weeks before the leave, which means I could have joined the company first without losing my right to parental leave. I believe withdrawn is the right term as they send me an email with the phrase (translation from german): "we will make you an offer". – Jannick Oct 22 '18 at 21:35
  • Did you actually mean to use "exemplary " when referring to this contract ? – Neuromancer Oct 22 '18 at 22:46
  • @Jannick You may not know if you're a new parent, but are you aware whether there's a particular stigma against actually taking that leave? Do you imagine your new employer would have been extremely annoyed to discover you're leaving for six months when you're only six months into the new position? Or is that something that employers in Germany have come to accept? In most countries this would indeed ruffle feathers, and that would impact how you might choose to approach this in future. – Lilienthal Oct 23 '18 at 6:43
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Sadly but true, you just got an insight into what job hunting is like for many women.

You never ever disclose your imminent plans for creating a family. Interviewees are entitled to refuse answering questions like "are you pregnant" or "do you plan to become pregnant" for a good reason.

Especially should I have disclosed the intention to take parental leave at the first meeting or only after I signed the contract?

Most companies consider applicants without an infant at home the better choice, regardless of skill. You will not only stay at home for 6 month during your parental leave, but also many days when the child is ill. As long as this is true, you never disclose your plans for having a baby until the contract is signed.

Additionally, the timing is rather poor. In the first 6 months you would have learned your way around the company, your new tasks and colleagues, only to disappear for another 6 months. New employees usually start producing value for the company after several months of training and learning the ropes. Your absence for so long after 6 months would delay your being profitable for the company even further.

Do you think the company acted heinously or that this kind of behavior is just to be expected and normal in the industry?

Yes, yes and yes. Sadly, but this still is the norm.

How should I react?

Since they gave a different reason for withdrawing the offer, you cannot prosecute. They could have said "Sorry, we decided to hire someone else" just as well. But I think it's a good idea to talk (on the phone) to some people, including HR. You have nothing to loose at this point but if every person rejected for their family plans keeps silent, the system will never change.

Don't barge in with accusations, though. Ask them why they continnued the interview process even though you clearly stated your wish to work 30 hours weekly. Tell them honestly that you suspect your parental leave to be the true reason and tell them exactly how you think about it (without being rude or insulting). If you want to, you may offer taking your parental leave now to be hired in 6 months. But success is still very unlikely because they would indirectly admit discriminating against you because of your parental leave.

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    Just for clarifaction: My (second) child was born between the first and second meeting and I was planning to take the second half of the ~year long parental leave period, while the mother would take the first half. Well if that's what job hunting is like for women, I guess I am glad to be a man... – Jannick Oct 22 '18 at 20:59
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    @Jannick and to be honest, Germany is quite progressive in such regards on the whole. It is much worse in the US where you generally don't get any paternal leave unless it comes out of your vacation (where for a tech job you can expect 2 weeks vacation to start that has to last you the whole year.) It breaks my heart to upvote this question because I wish it was not true. – corsiKa Oct 22 '18 at 21:20
  • Superb answer.. as much as I wish things were different @Elmy you're right on the money here. – motosubatsu Oct 23 '18 at 15:51
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    In Germany, you cannot just refuse to answer. You are allowed to lie about that kind of question. Which you would, since you saw what an honest mention does. – gnasher729 Oct 23 '18 at 18:02
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    @Jannick: dealing with a concrete situation, co worker taking family leave, is not the same as deciding on a hypothetical. People can flip flop from one pole to another when the situation is personal (maybe better, maybe worse). – jmoreno Oct 28 '18 at 13:01
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Questions:

1) In the initial offer (after the second meeting), did they put in writing that they were OK with you working only 75%?

2) If not 1), then did the topic come up again in the 3rd meeting? Perhaps it slipped their mind amongst the other considerations they were thinking about (e.g. if you were actually qualified for the job in the first place) and only thought about it too late.

3) If you are entitled to take parental leave according to your laws, why did it come up during the interview? Why not just accept the job, then let them know of your parental leave when you intended to take it? You would have a much stronger case (IANAL) if you could show a law professional specifically "I was hired, I signed the offer, I even started working, and then when I mentioned parental leave they fired me".

Regarding what you can/should do now, they stated the reason for cancelling the offer was due to you only working 75%. If that is non-negotiable to you, then you have no path forward; as you said, asking about parental leave is a non-sequitur if the (stated) issue is with working 75%.

This is what I would do (I'm not sure if I would qualify this as "good advice", but this is what I would do): If you mentioned the 75% thing before doing their assignment, I would send them an email saying, essentially, "I am very disappointed that you knew there was a disqualifying factor in my candidacy before giving me the assignment, but you wasted my time working on it when you had no intention of giving me the offer to begin with". Sending this email won't actually do anything (likely), but it would make me feel better, personally (as I said, this may not be good advice). I'd probably also write a review of their hiring process on Glassdoor or similar page, detailing the issue so others aren't blindsided. However, I don't think there is anything you can do directly against the company, and I think your chance of getting this job is over.

  • 1) No, not in the written reply. It was written down in my application though and it was the last thing we discussed in the second meeting so I am 100% sure that they offered me the job while understanding the 75% condition. 2) The topic came up in the third meeting when we discussed rough working hours, i.e. whether I would start later or leave earlier. 3) Probably I am naive but firstly I wanted to be honest and avoid problems later on and secondly I considered it a litmus test whether the company is really family friendly. – Jannick Oct 22 '18 at 21:08

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