Legal Issues in Advising
When Employment Recruiters Seek Help From Faculty
The Equal Employment Opportunity Act and Civil Rights Acts ban discrimination in employment and govern hiring practices. Employment agencies, which locate personal or job applicants for employers are also bound by the provisions of these acts. Both acts define "employment agencies" broadly to include "any person regularly undertaking with or without compensation to procure employees for an employer...."
Because of the broad reach of this definition, faculty who regularly refer students to employers risk being considered an "employment agency" under the terms of the acts. Faculty are, therefore, obliged to make referrals without discriminating on the basis of race, religion, ethnic heritage, or gender. The Americans with Disabilities Act seems to expand these categories by prohibiting persons who offer references from giving information about a person's disability (or handicap, legally defined).
The College Placement Council (CPC), a national association for college career placement offices and corporate recruiting managers, suggests these matters can be simply handled if faculty adhere to the CPC's principles for professional conduct. Summarized, these principles call for employment professionals to "maintain a recruitment process that is fair and equitable to candidates and employing organizations." In practice, this means that all students should have access to information regarding job openings. Employers can, then, apply criteria that may or may not discriminate. If WPI and the faculty do not discriminate in job referrals, they will not be responsible for employment decisions made by employers at a later date.
WPI's Committee on Advising and Student Life has consulted with the Career Development Center and recommends the following for faculty who are approached by employers seeking to identify students for employment:
Faculty can refer students to employers in response to employers' requests, but they should also tell employers of our obligation to share knowledge of job openings with the student body through the CDC. The employer should expect and can prepare for job inquiries from the WPI community.
Faculty with information regarding specific job openings should always make that information available to all students and alumni by passing the information along to the CDC. The CDC places this information in a binder labeled "Faculty Referrals."
- Faculty can refer students to employers in response to employers' requests, but they should also tell employers of our obligation to share knowledge of job openings with the student body through the CDC. The employer should expect and can prepare for job inquiries from the WPI community.
Recommending Students for Employment or Graduate Schools
Providing references for students seeking employment or admission to graduate school is an important professional responsibility for faculty members. Like other responsibilities, there are legal implications of which faculty should be aware.
First, faculty should be aware that both written and oral communications regarding a particular student's work or suitability for employment/graduate school should be considered confidential. You are, perhaps, all aware that under the Buckley Amendment students can waive their right to obtain recommendations completed on their behalf, but they are not obligated to do so. Faculty, on the other hand, must safeguard students' privacy rights. They have no authority to disseminate student records or other confidential matter regarding a student without the permission of the student. Of course, both oral and written recommendations, like all confidential material, may only be disclosed to those authorized by the student to receive the recommendation.
Students are obliged to ask faculty to serve as a reference and faculty should not do so until a student makes such a request. If an employer contacts a faculty member for a reference and the student in question has not asked the faculty member, the faculty member should first consult with the student before offering a recommendation. Once a student requests a reference (written or oral), faculty members can provide a recommendation without fear of breaching a student's privacy rights. Faculty should use discretion, however, and not disclose the specific contents of educational records (grades, for example) without a student's approval.
WPI's Committee on Advising and Student Life, the Career Development Center, and the College Placement Council recommend that students and faculty discuss a recommendation frankly at the time the student first seeks faculty assistance. The student should be aware of the nature of the faculty member's recommendation. If a student finds the faculty recommendation will be unfavorable, the student can withdraw the request and approach other faculty. Faculty should also be aware that unfavorable recommendations might expose the author to defamation charges. In such a circumstance, faculty may wish to consult with legal counsel before completing the recommendation.
When students apply to graduate schools, they typically present faculty with a recommendation form that includes a statement on confidentiality and a waiver that students may sign. The CDC recommends that students seeking recommendations for jobs follow similar procedures. In August, the CDC will send confidentiality forms, like those used by graduate schools, to juniors and seniors. The students will be asked to present these forms to faculty when students request recommendations for employers.
Last modified: May 31, 2007 11:50:22