Just what employers need, more red tape. While the Internet is a godsend for job seekers, making the drudgery of submitting employment applications nearly as easy as the push of a button, it has been less of a blessing for employers — particularly for companies that do business with the federal government, or with another company that does business with the federal government.

While record-keeping has always been a part of Affirmative Action requirements for contractors, recently updated federal regulations have added to the already considerable pile of red tape that contractors must endure.

“There are just so many variables for employers to be aware of,” says Barbara Cordasco, a 20-year staff member of the Employers Association of New Jersey (EANJ) and an expert on Affirmative Action. She has been active in guiding companies through well over 100 OFCCP (Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program) compliance reviews. “Basically, if you are a government contractor and you accept walk-in resumes, mail-in resumes, and resumes coming via some kind of electronic means, then all of your applicants have to follow this Internet applicant process.”

Cordasco facilitates a one-day seminar, “Internet Applications and the Resulting Record-keeping Requirements,” on Wednesday, April 5, at 9 a.m. at Wellesley Inn in Fairfield. Cost: $95. For more information or to register call 973-758-6800 or 609-393-7100 or visit www.EANJ.org. The workshop is presented by EANJ in conjunction with the OFCCP’s Mountainside and New York regional offices.

As a member of the professional staff at EANJ, Cordasco has written hundreds of Affirmative Action plans for government contractors and financial institutions. She regularly conducts workshops and answers questions regarding Affirmative Action requirements and provides in-house training and consultation to companies on writing, maintaining, and updating an AAP.

The OFCCP’s newly revised regulations went into effect in February. The new rule requires that government contractors and subcontractors — meaning a company that sells a product or service to another company that then uses that as a means to satisfy their government contract — that accept Internet or other kinds of electronic-based employment applications are required to solicit — or “cast a wider net” — to minorities and women, letting them know about job opportunities. These companies then need to keep track of this data in terms of the race, gender, and ethnicity of applicants.

But of course, as with almost everything that has to do with the government, things aren’t always that simple and straightforward. “Things are now a little bit different from what the regulations used to say,” says Cordasco, “because now there is a multi-pronged criteria used for defining an Internet applicant.”

Receive resume electronically. The new regulations are directed at those contractors that allow individuals to submit an expression of interest in employment through the Internet or some other electronic device, such as the terminals that some retailers place in their stores. If a contractor accepts only hard copy applications for a position, then the rule does not apply. However, if a contractor accepts applications or resumes for positions via the Internet or related electronic technologies as well as hard copy, then the new rule applies.

Considered for particular position. It is important that contractors establish some sort of protocol to determine whether they consider someone who expresses an interest in working for the company a bona fide job candidate. No company is obligated to accept unsolicited resumes, either by Internet or through more traditional means.

“The company can determine what the policy will be,” says Cordasco. “The company can have something that says that it has no openings at this time and therefore are not considering an applicant even though he or she sent us a resume. We don’t consider that an expression of interest because there is no particular job.”

Limiting the number of applicants. According to Cordasco, one of the contractors’ biggest headaches right now is a direct result of the ease and availability of the Internet. “One job opening notice can attract the response of thousands of people seeking employment,” she says. “So the company can say that it is going to use some kind of procedure that says it may decide to only accept the first 100 expressions of interest, in order to reduce the number of people it will consider.”

Applicant qualifications. Does the individual’s expression of interest in an available position indicate that he or she possesses the basic qualifications for the position? The agency says that qualifications must be relevant to the performance of the particular job. This allows a contractor to weed out some of the people who really aren’t the type of candidates who would be considered for the position. If an applicant doesn’t have the basic qualifications, he does not have to be counted for Affirmative Action purposes, and data on his race, gender, and ethnicity does not have to be tabulated.

In stating basic qualifications, an employer would do well to be specific. “In other words, if the company requires a BA degree in accounting, that is a basic qualification,” says Cordasco. “But a degree from a good school is not very objective, because who is to say what a good school is?”

Still a job candidate. The next criteria states that prior to receiving an offer from a contractor, if the individual does not remove him or herself from further consideration in the selection process, he is still considered as a candidate.

“This makes me blink a little bit,” says Cordasco. “It simply states that they just want to be considered if they don’t tell you that they are no longer interested.” Conceivably, under this regulation, a person who sent an application could be considered a viable candidate in perpetuity.

Keep good records. Record-keeping must be done by contractors and subcontractors, and the federal government expects these employers to keep track of who applies and to separate them in terms of sex and race.

“This is what Affirmative Action is all about,” says Cordasco. “Are we reaching out enough to let minorities and women know that we might have a job for them? A company must make sure that policies are in place that will not allow it to unconsciously weed out someone who otherwise might be qualified for the job.” In addition, once someone is hired into the company, records must be kept that indicates their progress through the ranks. Are they receiving equal training, equal pay, and equal opportunity for promotion?

No guessing games. While contractors are required to solicit information on race and gender, and to retain the records separate from any kind of employment record, the applicant has no such burden. “Of course it is strictly voluntary for applicants,” says Cordasco. “Applicants do not have to say what their race is, and if they choose to disclose, that’s fine.”

If there is no indication of race or gender, the federal government prefers that an employer refrain from guessing. Employers sometimes ask about race and sex on an application, stating that the information will not be used in the selection process. Another way that employers gather the information is by sending postcards to applicants. As a last resort, some employers “do it by visual,” says Cordasco. But that method might not work with Internet applicants, unless they attach an electronic photo. “That is kind of the last resort,” she says. “But for those of whom you have no determination, you would just have to track them by saying they are unidentifiable by sex or race.”

Cordasco stresses that contractors be scrupulous concerning their Affirmative Action policies and resulting record-keeping. “Be consistent,” she says. “The key to any policy and practice is that the company be consistent with that practice — from employee to employee and applicant to applicant.”

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