When is the last time your organization revised its employment application? Similar to employment policies and employee handbooks, employment applications should be reviewed at least every two years. State and federal employment laws change often enough that application revisions will be needed from time to time.

Changes in the law are not the only reason to review the standard employment application periodically. Even in areas where the law has not changed, an employer’s application may contain avoidable pitfalls. For example, many applications cause potential disability discrimination concerns when they include non-job related questions that relate to an individual’s physical abilities. Another common pitfall is inquiring about an employee’s employment eligibility status in a way that may elicit information about the applicant’s national origin. This inquiry could lead an unsuccessful applicant to believe that he or she was not hired as a result of discrimination based on national origin, and the applicant could then file a charge of discrimination. Additionally, although many applications contain an equal employment opportunity statement, most do not contain an accurate list of the protected classifications.  

The part of an application that is often in need of the most revision is the statement that the applicant is required to sign. This statement could contain employer-friendly language with regard to at-will employment, waiver of future claims, and acknowledgement of the truth of the information in the application and the punishment for submitting false information. Many organizations miss the opportunity to incorporate employer-friendly applicant statements when they choose not to have legal counsel review and revise their applications.  

Two bills recently introduced in the Ohio General Assembly demonstrate the potential for additional employment application changes in the near future. Inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history has become more of a concern for employers in the recent past, because such an inquiry has increasingly been viewed as a way to covertly discriminate against protected classes. In 2010, the Ohio House and Senate both introduced bills that attempt to address this concern. House Bill 556 would prohibit an employer from asking, on an employment application, whether the applicant has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a felony. Senate Bill 291 would prohibit, with some exceptions, employers from inquiring about the criminal record or criminal history of an applicant for employment “until the applicant has been selected for an interview by the employer.” Although these bills may not be passed as introduced, it would not be a surprise if the Ohio General Assembly passes a bill in the near future that affects criminal background inquiries on employment applications.

Employment applications can become outdated quickly. Review your employment application today, and also consider the benefits of having legal counsel take a look at your employment application.