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Want to discard old applications? Tell applicants up front

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources

Do you have a file cabinet overflowing with employment applications filled out by years’ worth of job-seekers? Don’t toss them out!

Unless those applications included a statement that you would retain them only for some set time, your best bet is to contact every applicant and explain what you are doing. Without promising that you are seeking to fill positions, offer them the opportunity to complete a new form.

Then make sure your new application specifically states that forms will be purged after some set interval—for example, after a year or 18 months.

The worst thing to do is toss out just some of the applications. You could wind up facing a discrimination lawsuit, especially if the employees you end up hiring are younger than the earlier pool.

Recent case:
Gary Yeschick lost his job in 1981 when President Reagan fired every air traffic controller nationwide who had gone out on strike. Twelve years later, President Clinton agreed to consider former traffic controllers for open positions, and the federal government sent out notices inviting re-applications. Former employees had to fill out the applications before a deadline and were told they would be considered for future openings. Nothing indicated their applications had to be renewed or would be purged later.

Yeschick sued after he learned from a former co-worker that the older applicants were being ignored in favor of much younger applicants. The agency pointed out that Yeschick’s application had been tossed because a letter sent to him had been returned “address unknown.” It argued his application wasn’t active.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It pointed out that this wasn’t the same as a regular purge policy—but that the former controllers had been promised their applications would remain open. It ordered a trial to determine whether there was an active effort to hire younger controllers. (Yeschick v. Mineta, No. 06-4649, 6th Cir., 2008)

Final note: Could you simply decide to toss out all applications older than 12 months? Yes, if you do so routinely and thoroughly. But the best way is to let applicants know up front. 

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