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Effective Human Resource Management and Employee Screening Procedures for Contractors


The importance of effective human resource management for a construction company cannot be overlooked.

Often, the areas of accounting, finance, project development and marketing take precedence over human resources, but it is extremely difficult for a construction firm to function optimally or to grow and develop without having a formal set of hiring procedures and policies in place to guide the screening, hiring and ultimately, management of the employees. Human resource management is far-reaching and expands into payroll management, health insurance benefits and related financial areas.


Over the past 10 years, the construction industry has seen an increase in litigation stemming from a failure to maintain employee policies and procedures, including improper hiring procedures. The primary claims made by employees arise from state and federal anti-discrimination laws and labor law violations. Under federal law, it is unlawful for employers to discriminate in relation to hiring, discharging, compensating or providing the terms, conditions and privileges of employment to an individual based upon his or her race, color, religion, sex or national origin. (Under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, sex includes pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions.) Separately, many state statutes contain additional employee safeguards that provide greater relief for aggrieved employees than provided under federal laws.

Despite the strong public policy against the improper treatment of employees and perspective employees, the vast majority of litigation can be prevented by proper and effective human resource management procedures and policies. For the most part, smaller construction companies can implement these policies themselves; larger companies may wish to outsource them. Proper management is not necessarily expensive, but it can be time-consuming and confusing. It is important for construction companies to recognize when to ask for help from lawyers and human resource professionals.


Today’s job market is flooded with potential candidates, but it can be difficult to find the candidate that is the right fit for the company. Before an employee search begins, the construction company must have a clear understanding of the positions it is seeking to fill. Having such clarity will aid in writing a clear job description. One of the biggest mistakes employers make is trying to find an employee who can fill a large number of roles. This results in receiving far too many résumés from individuals who do not have adequate experience.

There are several good ways to locate candidates: through ads in trade publications or on the Internet, through word-of-mouth and referrals and by posting employment opportunities on the company website. When employers become frustrated with their search, they often turn to employment agencies, but with such a diverse candidate pool available today, it does not always make sense for a smaller construction company to enlist the help of an employment agency, especially since the agency’s fees can be expensive.


The economic crisis, combined with the overwhelming size of the applicant pool, has created a vastly different system of employee-screening procedures than those that existed five to 10 years ago. Employers are struggling to find the right candidate on the first try; they do not want to hire a candidate who appears good on paper and makes a good impression during the interview, only to find that the individual cannot do the job or does not adequately represent the company. It is important to note that under certain circumstances, contractors can be vicariously liable for the actions of their employees. As such, the hiring of new employees needs to be handled with proper care and due diligence.


An interesting and developing area concerning candidate-screening procedures involves employer requests for social media logins. Under Title II of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, also known as the Stored Communications Act, employers are prohibited from accessing their employees’, or perspective employees’, personal online information in an unauthorized manner. But when an employee or applicant willingly provides login information, the protections of these two laws may not be triggered since the employer is not accessing the information in an unauthorized manner.

Still, if an employer lawfully accesses an applicant’s social media pages and uses the information to discriminate against the applicant in any manner, the employer would be liable under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on the protected categories of “race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.”

If an employer lawfully obtains the social media login from an applicant and does not violate Title VII, the employer would still be privy to personal information and private postings. Since jobs are scarce, many applicants are giving employers this access; others are deleting their social media accounts altogether.

State legislators across the country are aware of the shortcomings in the current federal laws and are debating the issue. Many states, including Illinois and Maryland, have passed bills making it illegal for an employer to ask an applicant or employee for his or her social media logins. However, most laws do not prohibit an employer from viewing information that is not restricted by privacy settings.

Developing and implementing proper human resource hiring procedures is critical to the prevention of liability for construction companies. As part of these procedures, it is critical to stay abreast of the rapidly changing impact that social media usage has on the hiring process.

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