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Job applications: what to include, what to leave out

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Background Check,Employment Law,Human Resources

Issue: Done right, your job application is a great tool to collect applicant information and communicate key data about your organization.

Risk: Unnecessary questions can run you afoul of federal or state discrimination laws.

Action: Audit your application with the checklist below.

If your job application hasn't changed in a few years, it probably needs revising.

Analyze each question to make sure it relates to the central theme of "How are you qualified to perform the job?" Applications, like interviews, run into trouble when they veer off into unnecessary questions.

While no single federal law governs job applications, one wrong question can spark a lawsuit under various laws, particularly Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bans sex, age, race and religious bias.

6 questions to leave out

To avoid bias complaints, here's what to leave off your application:

1. Birth date. In most cases, age is not a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ), which means birth dates are irrelevant. Also, don't inquire in a roundabout way, by asking when the applicant graduated from college, for example. The danger: Age discrimi-nation claims are growing by the hour.

2. Citizenship or national origin. You can ask for such information (on the I-9 form) only after you've offered the job. But you can inform candidates that they'll need proof of identity and work eligibility if offered a job.

3. Arrest record. You can usually ask about convictions but not arrests. Also, many states prohibit employers from asking about convictions for misdemeanors or juvenile crimes.

4. Applicants' height or weight. Unless height or weight is a BFOQ for the job, those questions are illegal because they can exert a disparate impact on women and minorities. Also, don't ask for a photo along with the application.

5. Church or social organization memberships. This information could be seen as an attempt to cull information about an applicant's religion, race or marital status, none of which is job-related. It's OK to ask applicants to list job-related professional organizations.

6. Emergency contacts. This information is relevant only after you hire. Unsuc- cessful applicants could allege that you asked for that data to figure out their nationality, religion or marital status.

6 questions to include

1. General personal data, including name, address, phone number and SSN.

2. Education and professional experience, including schools attended and degrees earned, employment history and names of supervisors, military service and dates (not military discharge status).

3. List of professional references.

4. An 'administrative use only' section, where you can record test scores or other internal interview information. Remember: Anything written here can be used in court.

5. An equal employment opportunity statement, informing applicants that all people are encouraged to apply.

6. A signed statement by the applicant that affirms your organization's rights. Specifically, it should: Protect your right to verify information received; affirm your intent to fire (or reject) people who provide false information on applications; make clear that no contractual relationship exists between your organization and its employees (at-will policy); and obtain authorization for any security or background checks.

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