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Keep applications clean; jotting notes may trigger hiring-bias claims

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources

Don't track applicants' race, sex, religion, age or national origin information on their applications or any other pre-offer documents unless you're required to do so under certain affirmative-action laws. And if you're required to track such data, use a "tear off" sheet that is kept separately from applicant files.

An even better practice: Advise hiring managers to refrain from writing anything on employment applications or rÈsumÈs. Since you need to retain those documents, making notations of any kind, including "secret codes" that identify or categorize recruits, could create a dangerous paper trail that could be tough to explain later.

Recent case: After a farming-supply company gave applicants written tests, it noted the applicants' race and sex on the test. Its well-meaning goal: Assess whether the test had a disparate impact on minority hiring.

A group of applicants sued for hiring bias, saying the practice amounted to an illegal, pre-offer inquiry. The company argued that it merely "observed" the applicants' race and sex, but didn't require applicants to disclose the information.

A district court didn't buy it. While the company didn't formally request the data, it still technically required the information for employment. As a result, the court let the applicant group pursue a class-action suit. (Modtland v. Mills Fleet Farm Inc., No. Civ.04-3051, D. Minn., 2004)

Online resources: Find the Uniform Guidelines on Em-ployee Selection Procedures, a set of federally approved test standards, at www.uniformguidelines.com. The National Skills Standards Board, www.nssb.org, has developed a national testing criteria system.

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