Mailbag: Job ads, global companies, and keeping employment fair and equal

When is it OK to send an extra e-mail? Are 'global companies' with lots of contractors running afoul of the law?

Email Envelopes

This is our first edition of the MasterWP Mailbag, where we answer questions that come up via Twitter, e-mail and other forums. If you’d like to submit questions for a future Mailbag, hit us up on Twitter at @_MasterWP or via e-mail at [email protected].

Today, I will look at a series of questions that came up in the Post Status “Club” Slack channel and via e-mail regarding our recent job listing for full-stack WordPress developers. (We encourage you to check it out if you are interested in joining our team!) I will discuss why we advertise jobs via e-mail, and how we’ve set up our company to provide maximum legal protection to our employees.

Also, everyone quoted is a self-described fan of MasterWP, so I don’t feel any negative vibes here – it’s all part of a healthy ecosystem where people are encouraged to care loudly, and their voices are heard, and their criticisms are taken seriously.

Q: “If you run a WP newsletter, I understand the temptation to use the subscriber list for sending job advertisement(s). But really, don’t. Especially if it’s the only content in that email.”

Back on July 15, I sent a standalone e-mail to our MasterWP list (40k+ people) announcing our job opening for full-stack WordPress developers at Howard Development & Consulting.

I wouldn’t do this every week, but the data (somewhat surprisingly) shows that this e-mail was more relevant to our subscribers even than our weekly MasterWP newsletter. The open rate for this e-mail was 3 percentage points higher that our average newsletter, which is even more significant because the newsletter is sent on Wednesdays and the job e-mail was sent on a Friday, which is usually a slower day for open rates. The unsubscribe rate was lower than for our weekly newsletter.

As another Slack user said in response to the comment quoted above, “I actually don’t mind. Besides, the advertised job is relevant to the newsletter audience.” While it may seem counterintuitive, the data tells us that our audience finds these e-mails very valuable, rather than spammy.

Q: “I wouldn’t mind if it’s included in the newsletter. Different thing if it’s the sole content in email when I’ve subscribed for WP related news.”

I agree conceptually with this, but again, both the aggregate data and real-life people tell us otherwise. Not only do they not see these e-mails as spammy or overbearing, but they really appreciate them, especially if they or someone they know is looking for a job. In fact, several of our employees responded to a similar e-mail back in December and now have fulfilling and well-paying jobs. That extra e-mail was life-changing for them.

While I want to strike an appropriate balance, our actual experience tells us that most people don’t really mind the occasional extra e-mail, and it is extremely valuable to a subset of our audience. For example, we also sent out an unscheduled extra e-mail announcing our WordCamp travel sponsorship, since that was quite time-sensitive, and as a result a bunch of people are speaking at a major conference and getting their travel paid for, when they otherwise wouldn’t have had that opportunity. So, while I recognize that opinions differ here, I think there is a strong case for occasional extra e-mails that are relevant to our audience, even when they are by definition not something that every single audience member would act upon personally.

Q1: “Job offers were for US and Canadian residents. There are surely plenty of subscribers that are outside of those counties and to whom it’s simply just noise because of that.” Q2: “Agree that sure isn’t relevant info for a global list – they probably don’t have their subscribers geotagged.”

We do have geotagging via Convertkit, but it’s of limited usefulness because about half our subscribers are still marked as being in an “unknown” location. (That’s not a criticism of Convertkit, it’s just not technologically feasible to geocode every recipient.)

However, even if I could know everyone’s exact location at the time of sending the e-mail, I think there is still a strong argument for sending it to everyone.

First, we know that people share job listings with each other even when they don’t personally apply. The recipient of the e-mail may be a WordPress developer in Denmark, but that person could surely have a bunch of friends in Edmonton or Omaha who are looking for a well-paying WordPress job with amazing work-life balance. So they might forward the e-mail, share it on Twitter, etc. – and thus it is valuable and relevant to send the e-mail to that person in Denmark, even if they are not personally going to apply.

Second, we also know that some people have citizenship or work permits in places other than their current physical location. For example, I personally have dual citizenship and can work anywhere in the U.S. or European Union. Another one of our employees was born in Italy and now has permanent residency in the U.S., and thus also can work anywhere in the U.S. or E.U. A third employee was born in Nigeria and recently obtained Canadian citizenship. And that’s just from a non-random sampling of 20 people. It is incorrect to assume that someone could not be employed in the U.S. or Canada simply because they are not in those countries when they receive an e-mail.

Generally speaking, segmenting your e-mail list tends to be overrated. Especially in a case where there is real value for the recipient (i.e. getting a job), the downside of missing someone who might want that job far outweighs the downside of sending someone an e-mail they find irrelevant.

Q: “I always wonder about US/Canada listings. Mexico is North America. South and Central America have the same time zones. I have pointed this out to employers in the past when I think location is being used to discriminate with prejudice about English fluency.”

The commenter here wasn’t suggesting this was the case for our job listing, but I think it’s worth digging into this, since there are some significant incorrect ideas and assumptions built into this question.

From a legal standpoint, it is not correct to use the term “discriminate” in association with “English fluency,” because English language skills are generally considered a “job skill” rather than an indication of membership in a legally protected class. Even in Canada, where the French-speaking community has very strong legal protections in many areas of life, it is acceptable for an employer to require a certain level of English skills if they can make a reasonable case that English is required to perform the job – for example, if you are interacting with clients or customers. While you could make a discrimination case if an employer entirely banned employees from speaking Spanish at work (i.e. with an employee or customer who also speaks Spanish), that’s very different from saying that English skills are a job requirement.

And just as geographic location doesn’t reliably indicate where you can legally work, it also doesn’t reliably indicate how well you speak English (or any other language, for that matter). There are plenty of people who are in the United States and have citizenship or work permits who have non-fluent English skills. There are plenty of people in South America who have fluent English skills.

That being said, even if you take the question of language fluency out of the equation, it’s simply incorrect to conflate a geographic limitation on employment with hiring discrimination (mistreating someone due to their race, gender, age or other protected ground). Not only are they not the same legal concept, but they’re basically opposite scenarios. The American and Canadian governments specifically prohibit a wide range of types of discrimination – in this case, the government forces employers to treat job applicants fairly. But the same governments also require that anyone you hire as an employee for an American or Canadian company has the legal right to work in the United States or Canada – which you could construe as treating non-citizens and non-visa-holders unfairly.

There is, of course, a wide range of ideas and proposals for how governments should grant visas and citizenship – it seems easier to immigrate to Canada than to the U.S., for example – but those are political and philosophical debates that don’t change your legal obligations as an employer to follow the current law.

Q: “To my astonishment I read you are only considering US/Canadian applications. How can that be? WordPress is global, your team is allowed to work whatever hours they want, so how is this relevant where people live when every single important WordPress company out there employ WP lovers from across the globe?”

We want to adhere to employment and labor laws everywhere we do business. In the United States and Canada, we have legal entities that pay taxes, provide benefits, and ensure that our employees are all equally protected from unfair treatment. We even extend many Canadian labor-law benefits to Americans – for example, Canadians get a year of job protection during maternity leave, whereas Americans normally get just 12 weeks. At our company, everyone gets the more generous Canadian version of the benefit.

Far too often, companies that say they “hire globally” are in fact not hiring employees, but instead are incorrectly treating people as independent contractors without reasonable benefits or protection against unfair treatment. (Notice that the person asking the question suggests that other companies “employ” people from around the globe – I’d ask those other companies to see the payroll tax receipts, because I bet they have a lot of contractors who are not technically “employed.”)

While a lot of big companies spend a lot of money evading the rules, it is pretty clear to me that a full-time web developer doing work under my direction for my web development company fits the description of an employee, not a contractor, so that’s the standard I apply for everyone at the company. I don’t think it would be honest or fair to hire someone outside the United States as a contractor to do the same job.

I know of multiple American companies that don’t treat Canadians as legal employees – they hire them as independent contractors, in what I think is a pretty clear contradiction of the law, and the Canadians get told that it’s “too hard” to set up a proper legal entity to employ them. (It is kind of hard, but you should follow the law – we use PEO Canada.) There are also many American companies that restrict which states employees can work in because there’s paperwork to file and taxes to pay for each new state. (We use Justworks to solve this problem.) The company saves a little money by fudging the rules and calling someone a contractor when they should be an employee, but this is basically a loss for everyone. In the near term, the non-employee contractor gets less than fair treatment, and in the long term the employer has a risk that a foreign tax authority might investigate the situation.

If you are working as an independent contractor and your “employer” discriminates against you, guess what? You have zero recourse. They are not your employer. You have no venue in which to sue them, since they don’t even legally exist in your country. Employment protections are 100% dependent on the country within which you reside, regardless of how globally integrated our economy has become. Even if your current non-employer “boss” is super nice, you would be much better off with actual legal protections.

One way I do this differently at my company is that I set up deliberate constraints around how managers and executives can behave – for example, everyone gets paid 1.5x for overtime, so no one can be pressured to work extra without compensation, thus removing the incentive for managers to push people to work extra hours. When we grow and there are many more managers and executives, nobody has to rely on the good will of any individual. Instead, they have actual, inviolable legal protections. Hiring a bunch of “independent contractors” globally (or even locally, as Google notoriously does) is the exact opposite approach – it frees managers of all constraints and basically makes the company immune to labor laws, because they are not really employing the people who do the work. While I recognize that this is a common approach, it’s not how I want to do business or how I want the future to be. The counterargument, from companies like Uber, is that it’s better to offer people mediocre gig-economy work than no work at all. I think that’s a false choice, and I try to avoid supporting any system that allows people to treat others unfairly.

I want all my employees be treated equally: as legal employees in their country, state or province of residence, with all the associated benefits and protections. Because of the fact that employment law is entirely governed by the country within which you’re operating, this requires me to choose which countries I want to hire within. It requires me to invest time, money and energy in expanding to new countries and ensuring those new employees are treated fairly.

I think it would be cool if we could establish a more globalized employment system – so it’s easier for me, for example, to offer American employment benefits to someone in another country. That does not exist yet, although the pandemic has inspired some countries to relax their visa rules to attract more digital nomads.

Over time, we will expand to other countries and set up legal entities there to ensure proper employee treatment, but at this stage of growth, that’s not necessary or sensible for us. At the same time, I am not going to fudge it and hire independent contractors who should be employees – I choose instead to take the best possible care of people who reside in the countries where I currently can legally employ people.

Do you have a question you’d like us to cover in the next Mailbag? E-mail [email protected] or tweet @_MasterWP.

Author Profile Image

Rob is the CEO of HDC and the Publisher of MasterWP.

Subscribe & Share

If you liked this article, join the conversation on Twitter and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter for more 🙂

MasterWP contains no affiliate links. We’re entirely funded by the sponsors highlighted on each article. In addition to MasterWP, we own EveryAlt, WP Wallet, Understrap and Howard Development & Consulting.

Latest Posts