Employment Applications: Some Do's and Don'ts


What information should you ask for on job application forms?

Ask the applicant for only job-related information that is required by business necessity. If a question is on the application form, it will be assumed that it is there because you want to know the answer in order to make an employment decision. Avoid extraneous questions that could be illegal if used to make employment decisions. Even if such questions are not used in making the decision, having asked the question raises the possibility that it was a factor in the decision-making process. Any inquiry that results in a disproportionate screening out of minorities is considered discriminatory. Thus, every inquiry must be defendable and support the fact that it is job-related.

It's OK to ask these questions

Requests for information from job applicants which are clearly permissible include the person's name, address, and Social Security number. Other appropriate questions involve the applicant's educational background and work experience. It is also reasonable to ask for personal references and to inquire about the applicant's availability to perform the job, including the possible need for working overtime, a different shift, etc.

Stay away from these questions

Don't include questions on the employment application about the individual's birthplace or the applicant's ancestry or national origin. Don't ask questions related to the applicant's race or color.

Don't ask if the applicant rents or owns his place of residence. Don't ask about the applicant's marital status or dependents. In Virginia, it's illegal to discriminate on the basis of marital status. Questions about the name or occupation of a spouse can also impinge on the applicant's religion or national origin. Family questions that may be needed for group insurance purposes are best left until after hiring.

Don't ask medical questions. Although you may not ask an applicant about medical conditions before you have made a conditional job offer according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, you can communicate that an offer of employment may be contingent on the results of a physical examination.

Don't ask about the applicant's religious denomination or affiliation, or religious holidays observed. Don't ask about the organizations, societies, or lodges to which an applicant belongs, unless such membership would enhance the applicant's knowledge or ability in the job-related field.

Use these questions with caution

Age: Ask for age only if it is necessary to comply with minimum age requirements for certain jobs. For example: "Are you over the age of eighteen?" or a statement that the hire is subject to verification that the applicant's age meets legal requirements.

Sex: Ask about sex or race only if required to do so for affirmative action obligations. This inquiry can be put on the bottom of the application under a perforated line or it can be on a separate sheet of its own. Such affirmative action data should be maintained and stored separate from the application and other employment records.

Military service: Ask for dates of military service, branch of service, experience, skills gained, but not the type of discharge. For example, having knowledge of a medical discharge could appear to be discriminatory if the applicant is not offered a job. It's always better to rephrase your question as to job-related military experience, training or supervision.

Criminal records: Don't ask about arrest record. You may inquire about convictions; ask for specifics of convictions � when, where, and disposition of the case. It's a good idea to include a statement that "conviction of a crime will not necessarily disqualify" the applicant from employment. Factors such as the person's age at the time of the offense, the type of offense and its relation to the job in question, remoteness of the offense in time, and rehabilitation should be taken into account.

Disclaimers and policy statements

Many employers include disclaimers on application forms informing applicants that the application does not create an employment contract and under what circumstances, if any, a contract can be created, including the title of any employee that can approve a contract. Other common statements inform applicants that falsification of an application could prevent hiring or result in termination when discovered. Application forms frequently include the assertion that the applicant, if hired, will be subject to employment at will. Indicating that background investigations will be conducted is also routine. Finally, many companies' application forms indicate the timeframe during which the employment application will remain active (e.g. 30 days, 6 months, one year). After this period of time, the individual will need to submit another application to be considered for future job openings.


SESCO Management Consultants is available for assistance should you have questions about employment applications. You may contact us by phone at 423-764-4127 or by email at sesco@sescomgt.com .