Employment applications play an essential role in the hiring process as they introduce an applicant to a potential employer and an employer to a potential employee. Resumes also fulfill an important role by providing an employer with a detailed statement about an applicant’s prior work experience, education, accomplishments and certifications.
Do I Need to Use Employment Applications?
Given both documents contain much of the same information, is it really necessary to require applicants to complete an employment application in addition to submitting their resume? The short answer is “yes,” and here are some reasons why.
When determining whether an applicant is qualified to fill an open position, a hiring manager must collect a lot of information about the applicant’s prior work experience, certifications, education, availability and professional references. Having all this information on one form, electronic or hard copy, ensures the same information is requested of and collected on every applicant and can be easily accessed by all involved in the interview and hiring process.
Supports A Diverse Workforce/Reduces Bias
By requiring all applicants to complete the same application seeking the same information from all helps employers comply with equal employment opportunity laws. Employers relying solely on resumes for an applicant’s experience, certifications and education risk unintentional biases when making hiring decisions. An employment application allows employers to quickly and fairly screen for an applicant’s ability to meet the minimum requirements of a position.
In an effort to remove unconscious bias in the hiring process, some companies use an anonymous application that removes or hides any information about the applicant that could lead to bias. An anonymous application looks like a regular one except that all identifying information, including the applicant’s name, are omitted so that during the initial selection round, only the applicant’s qualifications for the job are considered. Often times the retained data is released during the subsequent interview rounds. Some pilot programs have shown that significantly more women and minorities are hired when anonymous applications are used in the hiring process. When implemented properly, anonymous job applications level the playing field to job access by shifting the focus to an applicant’s skills and qualifications.
Acts As A Legal Document/Mitigates Liability
When signed and dated by the applicant, an application becomes a legal document that gives the employer recourse if, down the road, it is found the applicant or employee falsified information. An application can also be used to obtain consent for background and reference checks and employment verifications. Employers can reduce their risk of discrimination claims by emphasizing key policies on at-will employment and equal employment opportunity on the application. Also, by collecting the same information in a consistent format from all applicants, employers can compare applicant credentials impartially. All legally-sound applications should include the following:
- A certification section attesting the candidate is providing complete and accurate information and misrepresentation or omission of facts may result in rejection of the application for the position, or if hired, discipline up to and including termination.
- Critical policies such as at-will, drug-free workplace and equal employment opportunity.
- Authorization and approval for the employer to conduct background and all reference checks or verifications of application information it deems necessary.
Every applicant for every position, regardless of position level, should be required to complete the application ensuring all potential employees have a similar experience and are treated the same way.
While a well-crafted application can be a valuable screening tool and mitigate liability, one that is poorly written can cause exposure to employment practice liability claims. Often liability claims originate from questions asked on an application that potentially elicit information about an applicant’s protected class such as age, race, gender, disability, etc. Although many state and federal equal opportunity laws do not directly prohibit employers from asking such questions on an application, these types of inquiries may be used as evidence of an employer’s intent to discriminate, unless the questions asked can be justified by an employer’s business purpose. The guiding principle behind any application question should be, “Can the employer demonstrate a job-related necessity for asking the question?” The EEOC examines the intent behind application questions and how the information obtained is used to determine if any discrimination has occurred when investigating discrimination claims. Among the common inquiries to avoid include:
Birthdate – Asking for an applicant’s birthdate may give the perception the employer is using age as a deciding hiring factor. If federal or state law requires a minimum age to be employed in certain occupations, an acceptable way to determine compliance is to ask whether the applicant is at least the minimum age required for employment.
Graduation dates – Asking for an applicant’s date of graduation can reveal an applicant’s age and lead to the perception age is involved in the hiring decision. Alternatively, if a particular degree is required to perform the job, the employer can simply ask if the applicant has graduated, and if so, with what degree.
Salary History: Some states, including Maryland, prohibit an employer from requesting salary history information from applicants. These laws are designed to promote greater pay equity by forcing employers to develop salary offers based on job requirements and market pay levels.
Criminal History: Often referred to as “ban-the-box” laws, many state and local laws require employers to remove criminal-history questions from employment applications to protect applicants and candidates convicted of a crime from automatic disqualification during the selection process. Maryland, Montgomery County in Maryland and the District of Columbia all have ban-the-box laws.
Citizenship – Inquiring about an applicant’s citizenship is prohibited as it can be perceived as discrimination on the basis of an applicant’s national origin. Employers can ask applicants if they are eligible to work in the United States and notify them proof of work eligibility will be required if selected for hire.
It is of note that many of the same restrictions on questions asked on an application apply to those asked during interviews.
Get “Smart” HR
These are just some of the many questions employers ask on applications that may open the employer to litigation. Smart HR consultants have assisted numerous clients by providing justification to corporate leadership of the need for employment applications and creating legally-sound applications as part of a “smart” recruiting and hiring process. Be sure you have “smart” HR and are engaging in legally-compliant recruiting, interviewing and hiring practices. Call Smart HR today.