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Having represented countless employers sued by current or former employees for all types of alleged discrimination and harassment, I have come to believe that many of these suits could have been avoided at the hiring stage. In many cases, the problem employee slipped through the cracks of the hiring process, often because the company’s written application allowed the applicant to camouflage the problem spots in his or her past. So, since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, here are a few tips for the application process that will help you weed out the future plaintiff.

Retool your Applications.

Employers often pay close attention to their personnel documents, such as employee handbooks, time off requests, and written disciplinary forms. However, for some reason, they very rarely scrutinize the information applicants provide on their employment applications. These documents are usually old and outdated, and frankly are used simply because they are hand-me-downs from the last human resources manager. If you have not done so lately, take a good, hard look at your company’s employment application. Is it really designed to give you quality information about the applicant? Does it inform the applicant that providing false or incomplete information is grounds for non-selection or termination? Does it make them specify whether they resigned or were terminated from prior jobs? A good application and good interview can help you avoid the bad employee most of the time.

Always Get the Questions Answered.

When we handle a case for a new client, all too often the plaintiff’s application is incomplete. Sometimes, very important questions, such as criminal history or whether the employee has ever been terminated, are simply left unanswered. What’s more, the employer never questions the applicant about it. This should never be allowed to happen. Your company should require that all questions on the application be answered. Every question, all the time. This way, if an applicant fails to answer all questions, that failure alone constitutes the legitimate grounds for the denial of employment, provided that you apply this rule consistently.

No Resumes, Please.

Often applicants will try to avoid filling out some or all of the company’s employment application by submitting a resume instead. Don’t let them. When the applicant submits a resume instead of an application, the applicant, not the company, controls the information. Applications force applicants to present information the way you want; resumes present information the way the applicant wants. Sure, employees can lie on both an application and a resume, but it is easier to flush out those lies when they are in the format that your application requires. If the applicant wants to submit her resume along with her fully completed application, that’s fine, as long as it does not act as a substitute for any part of the application.

Remember, hiring good employees is the best way to avoid lawsuits. The employment application is an important tool to help you find good employees, or at least weed out the bad ones.

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