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What Are Boomerang Employees and Should You Rehire Them?

  • Human Resources
  • Article
  • 6 min. Read
  • Last Updated: 12/23/2022

two colleagues walking into the office and discussing boomerang employees

Table of Contents

They worked for you before and now they want to come back. Does it make sense to hire a "boomerang" employee? Weigh the pros and cons and keep these additional tips in mind.

When the pandemic triggered The Great Resignation, a record-setting number of employees as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics quit their jobs, which swept across the United States and dramatically changed the labor market. In 2021, 47.8 million workers quit their jobs, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Now some of these people are looking to return to their former employers as boomerang employees.

Traditionally, if an employee voluntarily left their employer, they usually did so with no intention of returning. It seemed the feeling was mutual. In 2015, SHRM reported that nearly half of HR professionals noted their organization held a previous policy against rehiring former employees regardless of performance. In contrast, the Great Resignation has many employers trying to fill vacated positions. When an employee realizes they may have been hasty in their retreat, they may be returning to an employer that is welcoming them back.

Should you rehire former employees? Here are some considerations.

What Is a Boomerang Employee?

The definition of a boomerang employee is just as the name implies: a person who leaves their job for a period of time, then seeks to return. Reasons for leaving may be personal, professional, or a combination of both. In a 2022 survey, The Pew Research Center listed and combined the top major and minor reasons why employees quit their employment in 2021:

  • Pay was too low (63%)
  • No opportunities for advancement (63%)
  • Felt disrespected at work (57%)
  • Among respondents with children younger than 18 living in the house, childcare issues (48%)
  • Not enough flexibility to choose when to put in hours (45%)
  • Benefits weren't good enough especially regarding health insurance and paid time off (43%)
  • Working too many hours (39%)
  • Wanted to relocate to a different area (35%)
  • Working too few hours (30%)
  • Employer required a COVID-19 vaccine (18%)

Understanding why an employee feels compelled to quit can help employers with targeted and preventative employee retention efforts. Helping to ensure that an employee doesn't want to leave in the first place can strengthen loyalty, improve corporate culture, and save you time and money.

Who Makes a Good Boomerang Employee?

Are you wondering what to do when an employee leaves and wants to come back? When an employee quits, they are leaving more than their role and responsibilities. They are also leaving behind their track record of job performance and overall attitude toward their work and team members. When an employee leaves on good terms, there are many reasons why they may become an even greater asset to your business a subsequent time around.

There are many reasons why an employee might leave and want to come back. They may have been forced to leave due to personal reasons, such as caretaker obligations. Once those obligations are met, they may be eager to reprise their former role. Others may have opted for a type of self-sponsored sabbatical. Sabbaticals are usually extended periods of time off work granted to an employee for professional or personal improvement. If your business does not have a sabbatical leave policy, an employee may have decided that their only option was to leave to gain the experiences they desired. This time may even include employment at another business or non-profit organization. If you rehire a former employee in this situation, you may gain a proven valuable worker who is bringing a treasure trove of experiences, perspectives, and creativity with them back to your business.

Just as there are times when a valued employee quits and wants to come back, you may also find yourself doubting if rehiring an employee who quit is a smart move. Did the employee have a history of poor performance? Was there a trend of demonstrating low levels of engagement? Did they have a reputation of being disrespectful of the company or others? These are the types of reasons that should cause you to pause before rehiring. Ultimately, it's important to have an open discussion with the employee to understand their motives for leaving in the first place and ensure that the role they are seeking to return to is a good fit for them and you. But also, as a best practice, it would be worth performing an exit interview before they leave the company to gain a better understanding for their departure.

Can a Terminated Employee Be Rehired?

Working through the decision to rehire an employee who was terminated involuntarily can feel tricky. Every employee, including a terminated one, represents a cultivated relationship and investment of time, money, and emotions. At the same time, you want to avoid a situation that results in boomerang employees being terminated again. A terminated employee may carry a high financial and emotional cost for everyone involved.

When can a company rehire a fired employee? It depends. Perhaps an employee didn't improve or change because all their energy was going to a difficult time in their life that they have since overcome. In this case, rehiring a terminated employee may strengthen loyalty and goodwill by demonstrating your ability to understand the real struggles of achieving a work-life balance. Maybe the employee learned a lesson from their termination and used it to improve their skill set and abilities. Or perhaps there was a personality conflict with another staff member that would no longer be an issue. In some situations, following company policy may become the ultimate decision-maker. As you consider your options for rehiring a previous employee, be careful to judge each situation on its own merits, weigh past performance of the individual, and think about if company policy impacts your choice to rehire, or not.

Can a Retired Employee Be Rehired?

The Great Recession has caused a critical labor shortage and employers are expanding their search to include a wider range of candidates, such as retirees. Doing so is an excellent way to build staff diversity and inclusion and reap the many benefits that come with it. But when it comes to rehiring a retired employee, there are questions to consider.

Historically, penalties associated with retirement distributions have dissuaded retirees from re-entering the workforce. The IRS has addressed these barriers and offered guidance to coronavirus-related relief for retirement plans. The first question stems from what counts as bona fide retirement for those with pensions. The IRS says that if a plan sponsor rehires an individual due to unforeseen hiring needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the rehire will generally not cause that individual's prior retirement to lose its bona fide status. The second question has to do with a worker being eligible for retirement distributions while working. The IRS explains that a qualified pension plan can allow individuals who are working to receive in-service distributions if the individuals are 59.5 years old or have reached the plan's normal retirement age.

Before hiring a boomerang employee, consider these advantages and disadvantages.

Boomerang Employee Benefits: Reasons To Rehire

There are several reasons why it might make sense to rehire an employee:

  • Recruiting and hiring can be a costly process financially as well as in lost time and productivity. A rehired employee may benefit the business by reducing these costs.
  • A former employee already has a working knowledge of the business, customer base, and what is expected of them in their role. This translates to a likely increase in onboarding cost-efficiency and timeliness. A worker that moves right into their previous role can also be more productive quicker than one who needs to "learn the ropes."
  • A boomerang employee can bring a double benefit of someone who understands the culture of your organization and can bring a fresh perspective of the experiences gained while they were away. You may also understand this individual’s work patterns along with their strengths and areas for improvement.
  • If you want proof that your business is a meaningful place to work, a rehired employee may demonstrate that you offer an attractive package compared to the competition. In this way, a boomerang employee can boost the morale of current workers by showing them your business is worth returning to for employment.

Reasons Not To Rehire an Employee

There can be some risks to rehiring an employee:

  • If your business has changed a great deal since the former employee worked for you, they may not understand the new environment or culture. Similarly, if they left out of frustration, your business may not be able to offer them what they seek.
  • A former employee may no longer be as qualified for the position as they once were. This can also be true if the industry has changed dramatically, and their former position has few transferable skills that are applicable in their new role. There may be another applicant who is more qualified.
  • You may envision a worker who is instantly ready to reprise their former productivity, but there may be more training necessary to get your rehired employee acclimated to new procedures and regulations.
  • If there were work performance issues, it's critical that you address them early, which can create an uncomfortable situation early on.

How To Rehire an Employee

If, after carefully weighing the benefits and potential challenges of hiring a boomerang employee, you decide to move forward, keep these practical tips in mind:

Re-Test and Re-Interview

Don't take a prospective rehired employee's working knowledge for granted. Staffing expert Julie Tappero urges employers to approach potential rehires as you would previously unknown candidates. Perform all necessary due diligence, including a review of all the individual has done since leaving your business. Conduct skills tests, if applicable, to measure their industry knowledge.

Potential Boomerang Employee Interview Questions

  • What have you learned about yourself and what skills have you gained since you left?
  • Why do you wish to return?
  • What do you think you can offer our business now that some of our priorities and service goals have changed?
  • Are there any unresolved issues you'd like to address, either with the business or team members?

Monitor the Rehired Employee's Progress

As with any new employee, it's a best practice to monitor how well they're settling in and getting things done. Take time to check in and ask specifically about their level of enthusiasm for the job and any different needs they have (at least at the 30- and 90-day point). In between these review periods, remember to stop by just to let them know how pleased you are to have them back on the team.

How To Recruit Boomerang Employees

Recruiting your former workers to fill gaps in your business comes with some distinct advantages. For starters, they are a known labor pool. You are already familiar with their strengths, weaknesses, and have established relationships with them. There are ways you can tighten your recruitment strategies to ensure the best fit for both of you.

  • Use a personal touch. It feels good to be wanted, and you have the knowledge, background, and relationship with a former worker to craft a customized request to get the conversation going.
  • Showcase your brand. Just like people, businesses evolve and grow. Social media and the careers page on your website can be used to explain the new and improved benefits of working for your business.
  • Enlist the help of your current employees in the form of employee spotlights. Either through video, success stories, or even in a series of testimonials, let your current employees highlight how your business has changed to meet their needs. Doing so may attract the attention of employees who left because they sought these changes elsewhere, before you implemented them.

Consider What’s Right for Your Business When Hiring Boomerang Employees

According to Paychex client HR business partner Rushell Greaves, boomerang employees are becoming more common in today's workplace. As an employer, here are a few key points to consider when hiring a former employee:

  • Rehires often require very little or no training to help get them up to par and could be able to hit the ground running. This perspective is very attractive for employers because fewer training hours are dedicated to the new hire and there could be a shorter learning curve.
  • The boomerang employee could have established contacts or networks internally and/or externally that could be of value to the organization.
  • Consider the reason for the former employee exiting the organization originally. Was it an amicable exit? Is the individual eligible for rehire?
  • Why are they returning? Does the organization value loyalty? Is this employee trying to fill a gap in their career? Do their professional goals coincide with that of the organization?
  • Consider performance history and length of time away from the organization.
  • Has the individual acquired new skills, education, and additional assets that could be of value to the organization?
  • How is the individual going to manage their behavior upon returning to the organization? Are they going to have an attitude of entitlement or lax work ethic? How could current employees react?
  • Now that the individual is trying to return to the organization, is there a cultural fit? What contributions did this individual make to the cultural awareness of the organization prior to the departure, and were they positive? Are they a good fit now?

There's an element of risk with any new hire. If you have difficulty recruiting for a certain position, the right boomerang employee may be the solution to your problem. With 50 years of experience and front-edge HR technology, Paychex Hiring Services can support you throughout the hiring process so you can feel confident with your candidate, whether they are new or newly rehired.


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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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