How to Improve your Hiring Practices

A company is defined by the people it employs. All too often, companies reflect back on an employee’s performance and wonder why they did not catch an obvious error in a job application, interview or background check.

One of the reasons these red flags are not caught is because the company does not have a formalized plan for recruiting, hiring and retaining successful employees. To that end, it is recommended that companies audit their hiring practices to ensure that they are CLEAN.

The acronym CLEAN stands for: Comprehensive job application; Listen and learn during the interview process; Ensure that background checks are conducted; Acquire the pre-hire and new-hire documentation; Never forget the employee handbook.

JOB APPLICATION

The first part of the CLEAN hiring practice is a comprehensive job application. This is essential to the hiring process. Unfortunately, many companies have opted to only require prospective employees to provide a resume for consideration.

While a resume should also be required, a job application allows the employer to elicit important facts needed to assist in making a determination for hiring.

The application should include the actual employment application; a clear, current and accurate job description, duties and responsibilities of that particular position; and notice of other required information, such as a resume, references and supplemental questions that are particular to the job.

While an interview is a great place to elaborate on the duties and responsibilities associated with the position, providing such information at the start of the process will help to ensure you are only receiving applicants who are qualified, or at least interested, in that specific position.

It is also extremely important that you obtain a prospective employee’s signature and affirmation that the information submitted in the application is accurate and complete. Such affirmation may provide grounds for termination if it is determined at a later date that an employee lied on their application.

Pay close attention to the time and effort each prospective employee took in filling out the application. You should consider only those applications which are complete.

If a prospective employee did not take the time to complete a simple job application, how will that person perform for your company when asked to complete substantive work?

Since you could potentially be receiving hundreds of applications for any one job opening, your company should have a records retention and destruction policy in place that complies with applicable local, state and federal law. During the time the applications are in your company’s control, they should be stored in a secured location with limited access to other employees since they contain sensitive information about a prospective employee.

INTERVIEW PROCESS

Once you have narrowed the potential applicants by reviewing applications, the interview is your next best tool to find your ideal employee. This is the next part of having the CLEAN hiring practice.

The person doing the interviewing must listen and learn during the interview process.

The interview is a mutual decision-making process. It allows both the employer and prospective employee to envision whether or not they are a fit for each other.

It is imperative to make sure the interviewer has been trained. Just because someone is in management does not mean they will be an effective interviewer. A good interviewer will know how to digest the application and obtain essential information needed to make a hiring decision.

The interviewer should always try to stick to the 80/20 rule - the applicant should be doing 80 percent of the talking during the interview. You will be surprised what some applicants will say in the interviewing process that will make it that much easier to narrow the field.

Depending on the situation, you may want to conduct follow-up interviews for your finalists. While this may be time-consuming, the objective is two-fold: to find the best possible candidate for your vacant position, and to make certain you are not hiring someone who will give the company problems in the future.

BACKGROUND CHECKS

Following the application and interview process, the next step in the CLEAN hiring practice is to focus on ensuring that background checks are conducted thoroughly and in compliance with the law.

Once the interviews are complete, a pre-employment screening, or background check, should always be conducted for each applicant who is still being considered. While a background check will not detect every potential problem of an applicant, it will limit and discourage bad hires, and will provide evidence that the employer has done its due diligence.

This screening process is extremely important because the cost associated with a bad hire can be devastating for a company. You may consider outsourcing the screening process to a third party, as it could save you time and energy.

A proper pre-employment screening does not mean that each applicant must be screened the same way. However, similarly situated applicants – a manager position, for example – should all receive the same level of scrutiny.

In determining how much scrutiny to place on an applicant, consider the difficulty faced in replacing a new hire and, most importantly, the damage that could be done if an inexperienced and/or incompetent person is hired for that position.

Just as important as the information gathered during the background check is how the information is gathered. Specifically, you must ensure that you acquire authorization from an applicant to conduct certain pre-employment screening and provide notices in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and applicable state law. Companies should consult with counsel to obtain the requisite documents.

EMPLOYEE DOCUMENTATION

Acquiring the pre-hire and new-hire documentation for employee personnel files and separately maintained Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification) files is the penultimate step in the CLEAN hiring practice.

Once the potential candidate becomes your employee, it is imperative that your company create and maintain that employee’s personnel file. All relevant documents, including job application, originals of any documents provided by the employee during the application process, new hire packet information, training acknowledgments, payroll information and executed offer letters are traditionally the first set of documents included in a personnel file.

A recommended course of action is to ensure that Form I-9s are kept in separate files, as well as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) protected information.

Whenever litigation arises, an employee file is a key set of documents that is used.

EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK

The final component of the CLEAN hiring practice is never forgetting that the employee handbook is the most important document maintained by a company, from an employee relations perspective. A well-written and up-to-date employee handbook can be a litigation lifesaver, but an out-of-date handbook can be your worst nightmare.

Unfortunately, many employers don't give their employee handbooks the attention they deserve, employing 20-year-old sets of policies that are hopelessly outdated. Fortunately, with a few easy steps, you can have your handbook up and running the way it should be.

Before you begin, however, you should stop to think about the purpose of your employee handbook. The goal should be to set forth your company's policies and expectations clearly and unambiguously, while preserving the flexibility you need to make decisions.

Keep in mind that the policies in the employee handbook should reflect the company's practices, and vice versa.

Ideally, a company's employee handbook should be reviewed and updated annually. Employment laws change frequently, especially at the state level, and policies that were perfectly fine several years ago may be incomplete or problematic today.

Check to see whether your company is subject to new employment laws based on its size. If you have offices in various states, do not assume that a "one-size-fits-all" handbook can be applied uniformly to all employees in every state.

Following these five CLEAN steps will allow you to improve your hiring practices, minimize risk and maximize productivity.

Raul Zermeno is an associate with the labor and employment law firm of Fisher & Phillips LLP in its Los Angeles, CA, office. With a focus on preventative counseling and defense of claims, Fisher & Phillips LLP is one of the largest firms in the country, exclusively representing management in the areas of labor, employment, civil rights, employee benefits and immigration law.

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