If you've decided to look for a new job, only to discover that the job you want comes with an application fee you must pay in order to apply, you may feel as if the company has you coming and going. This could also cause you to wonder if charging a job application fee is even legal.
Unless state law prohibits it, an employer can charge an application fee to job applicants to offset the costs associated with collecting applications. But he must ensure that the advertisement contains verbiage that indicates a job application fee does not guarantee an interview, access to an exam or a position with the organization. Some candidates, such as veterans, might be entitled to a reduced fee, depending upon the employer. Job candidates for positions with the New Jersey's Civil Service Commission who receive Supplemental Security Income, general assistance or Aid to Families with Dependent Children, for example, are exempt from paying the fee.
Civil Service Jobs
Local, state and federal government jobs have begun charging fees to applicants to help pay for the added costs it takes to test job applicants. Because government agencies spend taxpayer dollars, it helps them recoup many of the costs associated with the interview and testing process. Some civil service agencies have large annual budgets to administer job tests and maintain the office that handles applications and tests. Fees help them ensure applicants show up for the test and to recoup the costs of running the office that administers them.
Under employment laws enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers cannot discriminate against anyone during their recruitment or hiring practices. This includes the language used in all job advertisements, testing and interview practices. If an employer uses the job application fee to discriminate against an applicant who's covered in a protected class under the law, the employer can face charges or lawsuits brought by job applicants. Employers cannot discriminate when recruiting applicants based on age, race, religion, sex, color, nationality, disability or sex. Many states have also made it illegal to request credit history or perform credit checks on potential employees, unless the position involves money or supervisory work.
Job App Fee Legality
The question regarding the legality of charging a fee for job applications depends on individual state laws. Some states may not allow it, as in Hawaii, while others will allow job application fees in the case of public agencies, but prohibit private employers from charging a job application fee. Montana, for instance, prohibits employers from charging potential employees the cost of medical examinations as a condition of employment. Verité, an organization committed to fair, legal and safe hiring and work practices, advises in its "Fair Hiring Toolkit" that employers commit to not charging fees of any kind for employment. Verité also recommends that employers do not work with suppliers, vendors or agencies that do charge job application or recruitment fees.
- State of New Jersey Civil Service Commission: Step 4 -- Application Fees
- The Columbus Dispatch: Some Job Seekers Pay Fee Just to Apply
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Prohibited Employment Policies/Practices
- Credit Cards.com: States Stepping Up To Limit Pre-Employment Credit Checks
- Hawaii State Legislature: Job Application Processing Fees
- The Courant: Town Drops Most Job Application Fees
- Verite.org: Improving Codes of Conduct and Company Policies
- Cornell University ILR School: Verite -- Tool 2 Sample Benchmarks of Good Practice in Recruitment and Hiring
- Montana Department of Labor: Employment Laws
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.