NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Feds Use Phoney Job Seekers to Trap Employers

September 17, 1997

Federal agencies and private groups are increasingly using phony job applicants to trap private employers who may violate anti-discrimination regulations in the hiring process. The practice is condemned by legal and human resources experts, who say employers resent being lied to and wasting time interviewing fake job candidates.

Here's how the process works:

  • Two job applicants possessing similar employment backgrounds and qualifications -- but differing in race, sex, age or physical condition -- apply for the same job at a company.
  • The two so-called "testers" maintain minimum contact with each other during the process.
  • After the company makes a hiring offer, it is judged on the basis of how far each of the testers got in the hiring process, how long job interviews lasted and whether testers are steered toward better or worse jobs.
  • If discrimination is suspected, the findings are often used to create bad publicity for the company or as the basis of lawsuits against it.

Legal advisers caution employers to ask applicants if they are authentic job seekers -- a perfectly legal question. They are also being urged to conduct internal audits of hiring processes and educate interviewers on the necessity of treating applicants fairly.

While the process has had few legal challenges so far, W. Michael Hoffman of the Center for Business Ethics calls it "one step away from a secret police," adding that it's "almost like entrapment." Although some courts have backed using testers as witnesses, their standing as plaintiffs in cases remains vague.

The tester process is reported to be increasingly popular with civil rights groups and federal agencies -- including the NAACP and the Department of Labor.

Source: Stephanie Armour, "Testing for Hiring Bias Draws Fire," USA Today, September 17, 1997.


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