Guidance Issued on Allowable Questions to Job Applicants

OPM has specified exceptions to the new general policy barring agencies from asking job applicants about criminal history or credit problems until after making a conditional offer of employment.

A memo provides guidance on how agencies may ask for exceptions, and what factors will consider, under a policy that took effect January 3; agencies have until March 31 to be in compliance. That policy generally bars using as an initial screen the sort of questions regarding credit and criminal records asked on the Optional Form 306, Declaration for Federal Employment, or similar forms.

OPM said it will grant exceptions “only when the agency provides sufficient information for an OPM conclusion that there is a business need for the exception. For example, OPM might grant an exception for certain positions where the ability to testify as a witness is a requirement of the position, and thus a clean criminal history record would be essential to the ability to perform one of the duties of the position effectively. In these cases, the agency will need to demonstrate the validity of its conclusion that the presence of certain background information would be disqualifying.

“Another example of a possible exception could include positions, where the expense of completing the examination makes it appropriate to adjudicate suitability at the outset of the process (e.g., a position that requires that an applicant complete a rigorous training regimen and pass an examination based upon the training before he or she may be selected),” it said.

The memo includes a template for agencies to make such requests, along with instructions. It adds that once an exception for a particular position or group of positions is approved, the agency will not be required to repeat the request for later hiring.