- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

Thousands of federal government contractors are struggling to comply with a new Labor Department rule that establishes record-keeping requirements for online job applicants and will help the government enforce nondiscrimination laws.

The rule for the first time defines “Internet applicants” from whom federal contractors must solicit demographic information and sets requirements for the records that businesses must maintain about hiring conducted via the Internet and related technologies, including resume databases and job banks.

“What we’re hearing is that it’s intricate, and in some cases difficult [to comply], but it was necessary to get us out of the situation we were in,” said Charles E. James Sr., director of the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which finalized the rule Feb. 6 and gave contractors 90 days to at least demonstrate an effort to comply.

The requirements provide the office with data used to enforce nondiscrimination laws by clarifying what information contractors need to collect from Internet applicants.

Before the rule took effect, contractors had to keep records of resumes at which they looked from online databases in the same way they did for traditional applications. That was not practical because a simple glance at a resume did not determine whether the applicant was qualified, Mr. James said.

“It was so unworkable from both sides,” he said. “Too unwieldy for them to collect or for us to analyze.”

Problems defining Internet applicants began in the late 1990s when online job sites revolutionized recruiting and made it possible for one person to apply quickly for hundreds of jobs or for one posting to elicit thousands of resumes, said Cristeena Naser, senior counsel at the American Bankers Association, which submitted comments before the rule was finalized.

Online job site Monster.com alone has more than 50 million resumes in its database and attracts more than 20 million job seekers per month, said a spokeswoman for the Maynard, Mass., company.

The rule affects about 100,000 “facilities,” which are buildings or street addresses that the compliance office uses to track contractors, Mr. James said. Monster.com estimated that 20,000 businesses representing 27 million employees would be affected by the rule; Mr. James said he did not doubt those numbers but could not confirm them.

Under the new rule, an “Internet applicant” is defined as a person who:

• Submits an expression of interest in employment through the Internet or related electronic data technology.

• Is considered by the contractor for employment in a position.

• Meets the basic qualifications for the position.

• Does not remove himself from consideration.

For companies with fewer than 150 employees or a contract of at least $150,000, records must be kept for at least one year. Larger contractors are required to maintain the records for two years.

“For the larger banks, it’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Ms. Naser said. “Yes, we finally have a rule and for the first time can apply basic qualifications … but there’s additional record-keeping requirements. The larger companies are gearing up and have their [human resources] people on top of it.”

The rule requires contractors to change much as they did to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 by analyzing and writing down specific qualifications for each job, said Lori Carr, a partner at the law firm of Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP in Dallas.

“I’ve been doing a lot of training,” said Ms. Carr, who specializes in affirmative-action planning for government contractors.

Mr. James noted that many companies rely on third parties, such as Monster, Yahoo Inc.’s HotJobs.com, and CareerBuilder.com to help them comply.

All three online job sites have established rule-compliant features, and more than 1,700 customers have opted in to Monster’s program, which includes data tracking, record-keeping and storage enhancements, said Tad Goltra, vice president of product at Monster.

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