A Publication of WTVP

Every day, millions of resumes are sent to staffing firms via the Internet for open positions or for consideration with future openings. It isn't uncommon for a single job opening to attract thousands of resumes from online job seekers, most of whom won't be qualified for the job. In light of that, the task of determining when a person who applies for a job over the Internet must be considered an applicant for civil rights recordkeeping purposes has been a daunting one for companies. Much of this challenge was brought about by the growth of the Internet in the late 1990s.

During that time, it became clear that the existing recordkeeping guidance regarding race, gender, and ethnicity-set forth under the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (UGESP) issued in 1978-didn't adequately address electronic recruitment issues. UGESP defined an "applicant" broadly. The lack of definition resulted in various, ever-changing, and inconsistent interpretations, with guidance provided by the government being less than stellar. This placed businesses either under overbearing recordkeeping processes or at risk regarding legal action from applicants or the government itself.

Therefore, in July 2000, the EEOC, along with sister agencies, began to consider whether supplemental guidance about the definition of "applicant" should be provided. After more than three years and many delays, they finally announced their proposed guidelines March 3.

According to their proposal, "In order for an individual to be an applicant in the context of the Internet and related electronic data processing technologies, the following must have occurred:

This proposed definition is the product of a deliberative process to develop guidance and will serve as an important enforcement tool. In addition, the supplemental guidance is aimed at protecting the rights of applicants, while relieving employers of the burdensome recordkeeping requirements.

Again, the new guidance applies exclusively to the Internet and related technologies-Internet resume banks and job boards, employers' Web sites, resume databases, and online job listings. Existing UGESP guidelines would continue to apply to traditional non-electronic recruitment and selection, such as submission of hard-copy resumes to employers.

Though a good step towards clarifying the term "applicant," as well as acknowledging the realities of the modern workplace, the proposed guidelines don't go far enough. Among the concerns are that the proposal doesn't cover traditional applicants. Companies will again face confusion when they have to apply two separate recordkeeping standards for the same position: one for the electronic applicant and one for the hard-copy applicant. To avoid this situation, the proposed guidelines should be applied to all applicants.

The guidelines don't limit the definition of applicant to persons who meet the employer's "minimum qualifications" for open positions. In other words, if a hair stylist electronically applies for an electrical engineering department manager position, the company most likely will be required to consider the job seeker as a valid applicant. That won't reduce the recordkeeping burden companies already face. In the end, that aspect may change as the Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs has included that criterion in their Companion Regulations to the EEOC's proposed guidelines.

Written comments by the public on the proposal will be under review shortly. It's possible the guidelines may have a new look based on the reviews. Until then, either have a very good definition of "applicant" for your company or keep every resume that comes in the door, regardless of how it got there. IBI