Online rsums are taxing employers
Several years after the government declared that anyone who submits a résumé online is a job applicant, employers are still trying to get around record-keeping mandates that ask them to track the gender, race and ethnicity of every person who contacts them — even those who are obviously unqualified or not seriously looking for a job.
In some cases, companies have had to hire additional staff to call and ask people to supply their race and gender.
After two years of studying the problem, a federal multiagency task force led by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) still is struggling to settle on a definition of "applicant" that lessens the burden on employers but preserves equal-employment opportunity. A report that was expected in June has been delayed until the end of the year.
"We're looking at 'What is an applicant?' Someone who is serious about applying versus someone who is curious about what's available but not applying," said Cari Dominguez, commissioner of the EEOC.
She is joined on the task force by officials from the Justice Department, the Office of Personnel Management and the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.
Dominguez added: "We don't want to burden employers with having to call 7,000 individuals a week and say, 'We got your résumé. What is your race?' A lot of these people aren't applicants."
When employers were first asked to track applicants by race and gender, people generally applied for jobs in person — and employers would simply note who walked through the door.
Adopted in the early 1970s, the Uniform Guidelines on Employment Selection Procedures asks employers to use the data they collect about applicants to determine annually whether their employee-selection procedures are fair.
Federal contractors must keep each applicant on file for up to two years, and private employers must provide the information if asked as part of a federal probe or to defend against litigation.
Eight years ago, when online recruiting was in its infancy, the Labor Department ruled that the applicant pool includes anyone who applies online.
However, as the popularity of online recruiting snowballed, it became evident even to federal authorities that the expanded definition is unreasonable.
"I know a company that has a warehouse in Salt Lake City just to keep résumés," Dominguez said. "My take on that is most employers do take poetic license with that very strict definition, otherwise they're going to have to hire an army just to call people back."
In July 2000, the Office of Management and Budget directed the EEOC to try to update the uniform guidelines, said Jennifer Kaplan, EEOC spokeswoman.
Employers don't object to the reasoning behind the tracking guidelines, but they say asking people to reveal their race and gender is embarrassing.
"It was those requirements that drove employers absolutely nuts," said Jeff Norris, who heads the Equal Employment Advisory Council, which represents about 350 major U.S. companies. "We don't want to set ourselves up for a lawsuit by asking people their race, gender and ethnicity. If they don't get hired, what will they assume?"
Carol Miaskoff, an EEOC attorney in Washington, said inquiring about race and gender is "uncomfortable" and "tricky," but it is not against the law.