Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

They Ought to Know Better: The Incidence and Correlates of Inappropriate Application Blank Inquiries

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

They Ought to Know Better: The Incidence and Correlates of Inappropriate Application Blank Inquiries

Article excerpt

Application blank items from 88 organizations located in the Southeast were examined for job relatedness and compliance with EEOC guidelines. The findings indicated that 100% of the application blanks contained at least two "inadvisable" items, with the average being 7.4 items per form. Further analyses demonstrated that private companies, compared to those that were publicly owned, asked significantly more inadvisable items. Smaller companies did not include significantly more questionable items on their application blanks, although this difference approached statistical significance.

Over the last decade, a variety of studies have examined the types of questions contained on application blanks. For the most part, research has indicated that organizations are not complying with the spirit of federal EEOC guidelines regarding pre-employment inquiries.(1)] At present, questions about arrest records are the only items that have been considered unlawful by the EEOC and the courts.(2) This is because some minority group members have a disproportionate number of arrests compared to white males. Otherwise, no federal laws exist that prohibit the asking of specific application blank questions, although various states have banned certain items.(3)

It is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, to use information obtained on application blanks in a discriminatory manner when making personnel decisions. Asking non-job related questions that pertain to membership in protected categories may be suggestive of discrimination. In addition, these types of questions have not been shown to differentiate future successful versus unsuccessful workers (i.e., predictive validity). Despite such problems, it appears common practice for companies to request information on application blanks that bears little or no relationship to job performance.

For instance, Miller investigated the application blanks of 151 Fortune 500 organizations and found over 98% of the forms contained "inappropriate" items (e.g., not needed for personnel decisions, questionable with respect to Title VII). In addition, an average of 9.7 items per application blank were considered to fall into the questionable" category.

Specifically, some of the most common inappropriate information requested on the application blanks analyzed by Miller involved questions regarding: a) felony or misdemeanor convictions (64.7%), b) names of friends or relatives working with the company (42%), c) date of birth or age (31.4%), d) expected salary (71.2%), e) dates of grammar school and high school attendance (61.4%), and f) the presence of physical defects (38.6%).(4)

Lowell and DeLoach analyzed application blank items from 50 national companies in the United States. They reported that 48 out of 50 forms contained items of an inappropriate nature. Most common were items requesting information on arrest records (50%), physical handicaps (42%), military background (62%), and education (52%).(5)

Burrington analyzed general application blanks received from all 50 state central personnel offices. All of the forms contained at least one inappropriate item. On average, there were 7.7 questionable items per application blank. Some of the more common questions were items pertaining to gender (with EEO disclaimer, 74%; without, 14%), race or ethnic group (with EEO disclaimer, 70%; without, 56%), dates of education or degree (94%), and handicaps or physical defects (with EEO disclaimer, 56%; without 14%).(6)

Recently, Jolly and Frierson conducted a random survey of application blanks used by ASPA (now SHRM) member organizations. A total of 283 companies responded to the request. All of the application blanks contained at least one inappropriate item. Inappropriate items most frequently asked involved requests for information on past salary or expected earnings (84%), friends or relatives working for the company 68%), age (50%), health or handicap (44%), and past misdemeanors (34%). …

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