Nine years after the U.S. Congress endorsed the use of electronic signatures for commerce, research shows the majority of employers and academic institutions are refusing to accept them for verification purposes.
employeescreenIQ says it found “an alarming 57 percent of requests for employment and education verifications were rejected when an electronically signed consent form was used.” The company, one of the largest global screening firms, conducts hundreds of thousands of these verifications for companies of all sizes, including several on the Fortune 500 list. In the majority of screens, the former employer or academic institution insists on first getting a copy of the subject’s signature.
Schools rejected electronic signatures 59 percent of the time, while employers were only slightly better, rejecting them 55 percent of the time.
“We find that most employers and academic institutions still want to see an actual signature before releasing information,” employeescreenIQ’s Vice President of Quality Service, Kevin Bachman, says in the announcement the company issued today. “If an HR manager can’t get the information they need to make a hiring decision, there’s the likelihood they could simply move onto another candidate.”
When we spoke with Bachman he told us there have been instances where a school requires a consent form be mailed and the verification results mailed back. But even faxing back a consent form plays havoc with the 24 hour turnaround time many employers have come to expect. employeescreenIQ advises its clients who absolutely, positively can not wait to obtain a handwritten signature on a consent form at the same time their prospect provides an electronic one.
We thought it odd that a faxed form was considered more reliable than an electronic signature, but Bachman says, “We are all conditioned to accept the scribble.”
Congress sought to change that in 1999 when it directed federal agencies to accept electronic signatures on the same terms they did handwritten (wet) signatures. A year later Congress passed the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act validating the use of electronic signatures for contracts and other legal documents in interstate commerce. Most states have followed suit. However, consumers can still insist on providing handwritten signatures, and the law doesn’t bar a firm from requiring a wet signature.
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The acceptance of electronic signatures in HR is about on a par with the adoption of electronic signatures as part of electronic contracting. The International Association for Contract & Commercial Management found in 2007 that significantly less than the 45 percent of the surveyed firms which had adopted electronic contracting also accepted electronic signatures. Technology and software firms had the highest rate (45 percent), while none of the life sciences firms in the survey used electronic signatures for their contracts.
ATS vendors have also found clients having to scan in handwritten consent forms.
In the employeescreenIQ press release, ATS vendor iCIMS says it hasn’t seen any particular demand for e-signature capture and use. Instead, the press release quotes Susan Vitale, iCIMS director of marketing, saying:
“While we are open to pursuing more advanced E-Signature technologies, many of our clients are not demanding these alternatives. Instead, they are looking for printing, signing, and scanning capabilities, which we do offer today. Our platform allows for one-click access to view electronic iForms, such as background checks, in a Word version, which can then be printed hard-copy, signed off on, and then scanned back into the system very easily. While this is not necessarily optimizing the automation process, customers who pursue this route are typically less concerned with full automation and more concerned with viewing a ‘real’ signature.”