Essentials of the employment application
April 13, 2016
Diana Moroney, SPHR®, Senior HR Consultant
What does your employment application say about your business? Is it really gathering the information you need? Is it asking too much? Not enough?
Whether you use the old stand-by hard copy paper version or have moved to electronic applications that applicants access via the Internet or an on-site kiosk, you are not only providing prospective employees with one of their first impressions of your organization but may also be leading your company down a questionable path.
Employment applications should only ask what you need, including items that are job-related. Make sure you are not collecting questions and your prospective applicants are not spending time answering questions you don’t intend to read or will not be considering when you review the completed form. Applications need to inquire about a number of basics, such as which position the applicant is applying for, date of application, contact information, employment experience, education and/or trade experience, and related skills or qualifications pertinent to the job.
One standard inquiry has recently come into question, which is an applicant’s social security number. With concerns in recent years about identity theft, employers should consider if the employment application is where they need to ask for this. Considering how many individuals within the company come in contact with the completed form, companies may want to consider at what point in the recruiting process they actually need this information. If a company does not perform a background check of any type, chances are this personal information can wait until the individual is hired, and the W-4 and other employment paperwork needs to be completed. As with any confidential information, whichever point an employer requests this information, it should be protected and access should only be allowed by those who require it.
Some taboo questions include asking an applicant’s age and asking about prior arrests. When inquiring about age, chances are an employer just needs to know if the applicant is eligible to work and/or eligible to drive, depending on the position. So, employers need to decide what they need to know, and choose a better question. Regarding arrests, employers should instead be inquiring about convictions, and may also wish to include a statement that convictions do not necessarily disqualify an applicant.
Once an employer covers the basic inquiry questions, a crucial closing item should always be included. As any recruiter can tell you, applicants may occasionally stretch the truth on paper. Depending on what area of the application they may decide to do this, employers who hire them could be in store for surprises. One safeguard is to include a statement of accuracy directly on the application for the applicant to sign and date. This statement requires certification by the applicant that the information they have supplied on the application is complete and accurate. This can help protect the employer should it choose to employ the individual and later discovers inaccuracies that lead to bigger issues.
Once an employment application is collected, an employer obligation exists to retain it, even for those applicants not hired. When multiple laws cover employment related documents, retention should always be based on the law that has the longest retention requirement. Laws to consider include Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which apply to employers of 15 or more employees. In addition, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) applies to employers with 20 or more employees. Employers covered under any of these laws must retain hiring records, which includes all applications and resumes considered for the position, for each position for at least one year from the date the position was filled. Also, if a pending charge or claim of discrimination against the organization exists, all relevant hiring records must be retained until the conclusion of the case. Depending on employer and contract size, federal contractors or subcontractors may be subject to longer record retention requirements of two years.
Employment applications are many times one of the first steps in narrowing a company’s field of applicants. Employers are well-advised to ensure theirs is in-line with applicable requirements, while providing them with everything they need, and nothing they don’t.