Using Your ATS To Promote Fair Hiring

I recently had the opportunity to speak with a group of recruiters about how the profession is changing. I put the following question to the group: “How is your organization addressing the current economic climate?” The most agreed upon response was a shift in focus. Participants discussed the necessity of becoming more generalized as a matter of survival. Some have completely done away with specialized sourcing teams, and all have had to learn more about the legal side of human resources. Interestingly, in an industry survey our team conducted early last year, employment law was shown to hold little importance for recruitment professionals. In continuing this discussion, I asked how many recruiters now had to work more closely with the human resources group, specifically on EEO issues. Again the trend showed this was happening more and more. Because the two groups typically have very different goals, this relationship has been strained. But did you know that your applicant tracking system (ATS) can build a bridge between these groups? An ATS is a powerful tool in the implementation and tracking of fair hiring practices, an area that recruiters admit they must become more knowledgeable. Through the use of data in your ATS, you can proactively identify and track your efforts towards reaching a broad candidate pool and making sure your practices are non-discriminatory. Let’s face it, broadening the staffing reach increases your chances of finding the best employees for your business – which, after all, is the mission of the staffing professional. Although most HR professionals are familiar with the OFCCP and the EEOC, many recruiters are not. For recruiters, those who have heard the terms fear these government agencies. I have seen many staffing functions paralyzed by fear of the dreaded audit. One client I met with earlier this year was completely paralyzed. The EEO group had an admirably flawless record in defending the company in audits. As a result, the staffing strategy was EEO driven, significantly limiting the reach of the staffing group and ultimately preventing them from identifying the best employees. In this article, I hope to shed some light on this topic for recruiters, and help HR professionals and recruiters come together on processes and procedures by using an ATS to consistently hire the most qualified candidates. First, let’s revisit some definitions Dr. Wendell Williams shared in an article back in January. The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and the OFCCP (Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs) are two separate and distinct agencies. The EEOC is chartered with enforcing the regulations intended to prevent employment and pay discrimination. The EEOC does not perform audits. On the other hand, the OFCCP, through its ongoing audits, works not only to prohibit discrimination by entities doing business with the federal government, but also to ensure that these organizations are practicing affirmative action, ensuring compliance to several acts and executive orders. Since we’re discussing compliance and the use of an applicant tracking system, it seems we should discuss the definition of an applicant. This would be much simpler if the definition were not so vague. The current definition – anyone seeking employment at your company – is somewhat problematic. However, the U.S. Supreme Court helped us out slightly in McDonnell Douglas Corporation vs. Green by finding that an applicant must prove that “he applied and was qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants…” This reduced the applicant pool to those who meet the minimum requirements. While this case was helpful, it is important to note that there still continues to be much confusion and disagreement about the applicant definition. It’s an area in which federal contractors and the OFCCP have major and serious differences. (For more information on minimum requirements, see the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures.) One final definition that is important to our discussion here is “selection procedure.” The Uniform Guidelines defines selection procedure as “any measure, combination of measures, or procedures used to make a decision about an employee or an applicant.” Now that we understand the terms, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with your ATS. The answer is plenty. Here are a few ways to leverage your ATS to support your efforts:

  • Develop your hiring processes at all levels. As in any mission critical initiative, commitment from the top down is a must. Work with your legal counsel and internal experts to develop your processes and procedures, keeping in mind the necessity of hiring the best people while limiting the number of “applicants” to be reviewed. As you develop these processes, keep in mind that there are record-keeping requirements and legal obligations for candidate tracking.
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  • Use a variety of candidate sources. Complying with legal obligations doesn’t mean ignoring the need to proactively source and locate the best potential applicants. What it does mean is that you want to make sure you are reaching candidates from a variety of places. Capturing the candidate source aides you in the efforts.
  • Offer applicants the opportunity to self identify online. While there are no court cases to support the validity of this, our group has found that in audits, capturing this data online was viewed favorably because the chances of obtaining that data is increased.
  • Leverage the data you’ve captured to take proactive steps. You can capture the progress of candidates and applicants through the hiring process (selection procedures) automatically in an ATS by simply moving a candidate through the workflow and documenting reasons when not selected. This automates the candidate flow log, complies with record-keeping requirements, and can provide extremely useful information in an audit situation. You can also make use of this data to help identify sources for recruiting women and minorities where affirmative action goals have been established.

Consistency in your processes and clear communication to candidates can go a long way in mitigating any risks. However, the bottom line here is that the items listed above are just plain best recruiting practices. An added benefit is that this assists the EEO group with their mission. After all, one thing we can all agree upon is that getting the best possible talent hired into the company is not only the mission of the staffing professional, it’s just good business.

Kimberly Bedore ( is a consultant and public speaker who develops and implements staffing solutions for clients, resulting in increased efficiencies and significant cost savings. She uses her wide range of recruiting experience to provide companies with a wealth of information related to sourcing and sourcing strategies, recruitment training, and the implementation of solutions and metrics that enable a higher degree of staffing effectiveness.


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