All HR professionals know that having candidates complete an employment application  is a very important step in the hiring process. Employment applications not only collect employment history and educational information on potential candidates, but can also be used to inform applicants of the company’s equal employment opportunity and at-will employment policies.  Even if an employer requests that candidates submit a resume for a position opening, the completion of an employment application at the interview meeting should be standard hiring practice for all companies. 

Given the importance of this step in the new hire process, it is recommended that companies do an annual review of their employment application form to ensure that it is up-to-date with federal regulations and human resources best practices.  A well-designed employment application will include the following:

  • A statement that the organization is an equal employment opportunity employer that does not discriminate on the basis of any attribute protected by federal or state laws.
  • A prominent statement that employment is considered on an at-will basis and an offer of employment will not be considered a contract.
  • Authorization and approval for the organization to conduct background and all reference checks or verification of application information it deems necessary.
  • A statement that a criminal conviction listed on the application will not disqualify the applicant from being hired, and that the company will consider:  the nature or gravity of any offense or conduct; the time elapsed since the conviction and/or completion of any jail sentence; and the responsibilities of the job being filled.
  • A notice that falsification of any information in the application process will be deemed grounds to reject a candidate or to terminate employment if already hired.

When completing the review of the application form, it is just as important to recognize those items that should NOT be included on an employment application, such as:

  • Any question that will produce a response that would indicate an applicant’s protected class, such as age, race, national origin, disability, etc.   For example, an application form should not ask for any information that could be used to determine the age of a candidate, such as requiring “Date Graduated from High School”.
  • Questions regarding the type of discharge received from military service.  It is okay to ask the applicant to indicate dates served, the type of work done and training received.  However, while there is no specific regulation barring potential employers from asking about the type of discharge received (honorable vs. dishonorable) due to disparate impact concerns, there should be a good business reason for doing so.
  • Inquiries about the amount of sick leave the applicant has taken in past jobs.  Both the ADA and FMLA prohibit discrimination and retaliation against applicants who have exercised their rights under those acts. 

Also, while it is not unlawful to do so, due to identity theft and general privacy concerns, an employer should not require applicants to provide their social security number when completing an employment application form.  It is advisable to wait until the background check process begins or completion of tax and benefits plan forms before requesting a social security number, and even then procedures should be in place to make sure that all personal information is kept confidential.

Often employment application forms used by companies today are a boilerplate template from a book or downloaded from the Internet.  There is no harm in this, however, extra care should be taken to make sure that the application conforms to both the industry of the employer, as well as the state where employment will take place.  It is also a good idea to have all employment application forms reviewed by a labor attorney to reduce the potential for claims of discrimination due to disparate impact.

Ann Kontner is a former senior human resources executive with vast experience in all facets of the HR field. She brings to S&J over 25 years of HR experience in corporate compliance, administrative management, staff development and executive leadership skills. She has worked for a wide range of employers including both public and privately held corporations, federal government contractors, and has experience working in both domestic and international markets.
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