Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Personnel Application Blanks: Persistence and Knowledge of Legally Inadvisable Application Blank Items

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Personnel Application Blanks: Persistence and Knowledge of Legally Inadvisable Application Blank Items

Article excerpt

Information gleaned from various application blank questions can result in improperly depriving individuals of employment and perhaps discriminating against them in ways now protected by law. (1) For instance, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Equal Pay Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) were all drafted as legislation to address and reduce the amount of discrimination commonly found in employment practices. Specific to application blank inquiries, the EEOC states that "Although Title VII does not make pre-employment inquiries concerning race, color, religion, or national origin per se violations of law, the Commission's responsibility to promote equal employment opportunity compels it to regard such inquiries with extreme disfavor" (2) (p. 81,701). Additionally, the Commission has stated that it will "pay particular attention to the use by the party against whom charges have been made of pre-employment inquiries ... which tend directly or indirectly to disclose such information. The fact that such questions are asked may, unless otherwise explained, constitute evidence of discrimination, and will weigh significantly in the Commission's decision as to whether or not Title VII has been violated" (3) (p. 81,701). Given this, the EEOC strongly advises employers not to ask questions of this nature due to possible negative effects that could be felt by many minority groups from answering such questions.

However, research on the content of application blanks has been relatively neglected. (4,5) The studies that have been performed have focused on the identification of illegal, as well as legally inadvisable application blank items and they have generally found the existence of multiple problematic questions. A legally inadvisable item is one that requests information that is "not related to job performance and/or could have a disparate effect on the hiring of members of various minority groups" (6) (p. 365) A legitimate item is classified as an item that inquires about "job-related information relevant to a given category and/or [does not] not identify members of certain minority groups" (7) (p. 365).

Vodanovich and Lowe (8) reviewed 85 retail applications and found an average of 7.4 problematic items. Similarly, Burrington (9) examined 50 general state employment applications and found and average of 7.7 inadvisable items. More recently, Wallace, Tye, and Vodanovich (10) discovered an average of 4.2 inadvisable items using a sample of 42 Internet-based state government applications. A summary of prior application blank studies can be found in Table 1, along with examples of the more common inadvisable items discovered in each study.

These findings indicate that practitioners are including a host of inadvisable items on application forms despite the existence of research identifying the problems with such a practice. However, it is unclear if this is occurring due to lack of knowledge or difficulties in implementation. In other words, does a knowing or doing gap exist(11)? Recently, Rynes, Colbert, and Brown (12) stated that "it is a well known fact that organizations often fail to adopt practices that research has shown to be effective" (p. 149). They found that Human Resource (HR) professionals correctly answered an average of 57 percent of items on a knowledge test of HR practices and policies. "Knowing" may be a concern for some HR practitioners, however, this study did not assess knowledge of application blank content.

Present Study

While past investigations on the topic are not without merit, there are a few limitations of previous work. First, studies have not generally focused on understanding the public's awareness of EEOC guidelines regarding the nature of application blank items contained on personnel application blanks. Second, past researchers have typically neglected to examine the extent to which HR professionals are aware of the problems associated with asking certain inadvisable application blank items. …

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