Worker shortage: Employers say applicants skip interviews, new hires don't show up

Mark Williams Patrick Cooley
The Columbus Dispatch
Casey Blethen (left) fills out an application to be a server or bartender at Cameron Mitchell Restaurants during an outdoor hiring event for their newest restaurant, El Segundo. Working with Blethen is the chain's recruiting manager, Brianna Williams (center) and human resources manager Abby Stasko. El Segundo opens August 31 at 698 N. High St.

At the Columbus retailer Mutts & Co., just getting applicants or workers to show up can be considered a success some days.

At least a dozen times the past few months, applicants or new workers have ghosted the pet supplies and grooming company for interviews or didn't arrive for the first day of work.

"Professional ethics seem to be lacking," said Mark Vitt, who owns the seven central Ohio stores with his wife, Deborah.

As the economy reopens, restaurants, stores and other businesses say finding applicants and scheduling them for interviews is one thing. Getting them to show up is another.

The same goes for newly hired workers who may decide that the job they just landed isn't worth the effort even after going through interviews and screening.

The result: Some restaurants have had to reduce seating capacity or cut hours, and businesses struggle to fill orders or provide customers the service they expect.

"A customer expects their grooming services and bath," Vitt said. "It's a scramble to reschedule or have other staff work in these appointments. It's one thing to miss a meeting. It's another to impact the business and the customers of the company."

Is ghosting a way to fulfill job search requirements for unemployment benefits?

The complaints about applicants ghosting companies comes after the state began requiring Ohioans to resume searching for work as a condition of receiving unemployment benefits.

Undoubtedly, some workers are going through the motions of applying for jobs to keep their benefits, said Catherine Burgett, an employment law attorney with the Frost Brown Todd law firm in Columbus.

"There are some who accept an offer and later change their minds because they’d rather stay on benefits," she said.

Cameron Mitchell Restaurants newest location, El Segundo, opens August 31 at 698 N. High St. The building once housed Rigsby's, one of the city's finest restaurants. It also was the site of Harvey & Ed's, a delicatessen.

A more likely reason, though, is that applicants received a better offer, such as better pay or a signing bonus from another company and they don't contact the first company, Burgett said.

Technically, applicants who don't show up for the interview put their unemployment benefits at risk, if the state knew about it, but the benefits are largely based on applicants self-reporting their job-search efforts, she said.

If an applicant ghosts a company, many would likely have an easy excuse if they did get in trouble, such as child-care issues, transportation problems or mandatory vaccinations, she said.

More:Ohio unemployment rate rises in July even as employers add 19,200 jobs

State workers who monitor unemployment beneficiaries are fairly liberal with the rules, stressed Tom Barnard, a retired employment attorney and an adjunct professor of employment law at Case Western Reserve University. Job seekers don't need to set up job interviews to keep their benefits as long as they can prove they're actively searching for work.

"As a practical matter you would have to be doing virtually nothing" to lose your benefits, Barnard said.

Even after workers start, companies might still get ghosted. 

"You interview people, hire them and when they do come to work they get their first paycheck and quit," said Norm Blanchard, director of the Guernsey County Community Improvement Corporation and Port Authority in eastern Ohio.

"Or if you do get someone to come to work, they want to dictate their wages, what hours they work and what times or days that they are willing to work. "

Blanchard, who speaks with a variety of employers in his job, said the problem is impacting businesses across the spectrum.

"You just can't get people to come to work," he said. "It's really hard right now to keep people on the work rolls." 

Restaurants, retailers among many industries affected by ghosting

Ghosting is widespread among industries, but restaurants and retailers appear most affected.

Labor shortages are so severe that the Columbus pizza chain Late Night Slice closed for lunch. Co-owner Jason Biundo says no-shows are a problem in normal times, but it's gotten worse during the pandemic.

"We were looking at something like half of them for a while, and it might even be more," he said. "We were putting out (job openings) on every channel we could think of, social media, taking out ads. We wound up getting a few more applicants, but the rate of no-shows was about the same."

He said the Late Night Slice human resources staff squander time setting up interviews only to have to people not show.

"It's a waste of resources, especially when their focus right now is onboarding people and staffing up the restaurants," Biundo said.

The Alcove Restaurant in Mount Vernon cut service and removed tables because it's not getting enough serious applicants, Assistant Manager Donovan Rice said.

"We have had applicants who don't express much interest beyond the application phase," he said.

Alcove recently saw an uptick in serious applicants after offering a $1,000 sign-on bonus for full-time workers ($500 for part time), he said. Applicants have to stay for at least 180 days to get the full bonus.

Other restaurants took more drastic steps. The Lava Rock Grill and shop at the Unusual Junction in West Lafayette, near Coshocton, had to temporarily close thanks to a staffing shortage, according to the establishment's Facebook page.

The general manager of  El Segundo, Jessica Stull (right), laughs with training manager Molly Breidenbach. El Segundo will be the newest Cameron Mitchell restaurant when it opens August 31 at 698 N. High St. in the Short North.  Stull said the restaurant has about 45 employees scheduled to start and will open for dinner only Tuesday through Sunday, but will expand hours and days when full staffing of about 60 people is reached.

At Cameron Mitchell restaurants, more than half of applicants don't show up for interviews, said Amberlyn Heiney, regional director for the Columbus-based company.

"We need people at almost all of our properties and we don't see a lot of people applying," she said. "Pre-pandemic we didn't have that issue, we got a steady flow of applicants."

Recently the company added a $500 hiring bonus just to get people to apply.

Hiring for El Segundo, a Mexican-themed restaurant in the Short North that Cameron Mitchell opened this week, has been especially tough, she said.

"The first few weekends we had scheduled interviews for chefs and kitchen candidates and only about 25% actually showed up," Heiney said.

"It affects the operations of the overall restaurant, and it adds a level of stress on the team that nobody wants and there's not a good solution."

Local credit unions say they too have been hurt by ghosting.

Credit Union of Ohio scheduled six interviews on one day to fill an opening for a teller. Not a single person showed.

"Over the past year it’s been a struggle," said Jill Gerschutz, the credit union's senior vice president. "It’s always questionable on whether (those being interviewed) will show up.’’

On top of that, the number of applications the credit union is getting for openings also are down, she said. 

"It's definitely taking longer to fill openings," she said.

State Highway Patrol Federal Credit Union recently scheduled 10 interviews to fill an opening for a teller position. Only three applicants showed.

CEO Becky Landis said credit unions, restaurants, stores and other businesses in the service sector are all competing for the same group of applicants.

"I've hired some great employees from restaurants," she said.

Impact of not calling or showing up: Ending up on a do-not-hire list

At the moment, applicants who ghost prospective employees don't have much to worry about since companies are desperate for workers and there's plenty of other places to go. Ohio needs about 270,000 more jobs to recover those lost in the early days of the pandemic.

Applicants who don't show up may find themselves on a do-not-hire list should they ever seek employment again at that company, attorney Burgett said.

"Many employers would not be willing to take a second shot at getting ghosted again," she said.

Conversely, most employers would be understanding if applicants called and said they were taking another job, she said.

Vitt, co-owner of Muggs, said many of the applicants who have ghosted the company are younger and don't have much work experience.

"At first, we got worried that something catastrophic happened. ... Now we aren't surprised and no longer concerned," he said. "It's just another instance of a lack of professional ethics."

Reporter Rick Stillion of The Daily Jeffersonian in Cambridge contributed to this report.