Job Application Kiosks: The Role of Unicru in the Kiosk and Retail Job Sector
Unicru, a Beaverton, Oregon company dominates the kiosk space. Unicru says it processes approximately one job application per second during the average U.S. workday. All totalled, Unicru processes about 6 million job applicants per year, and has processed a total of more than 19.5 million candidate applications. In 2002, Unicru achieved record revenues of $21.1 million and was recognized as one of the fastest- growing companies in the U.S. It says that it is the leading provider of hiring management systems.
Unicru has developed proprietary artificial intelligence programs that it claims reduces turnover for its clients. It deploys its AI programs on “more than 13,000 on-site application centers and Web-based solutions.” That is, kiosks and Web sites.
Job seekers fill out the kiosk applications and take the employment tests, which are submitted directly to Unicru. The tests are graded and the applications are categorized into green, yellow, or red. Reds are automatic discards, and do not get to the interview level with employers.
Marriott, Target, CVS, Bennigans, Blockbuster Entertainment, Metro One, Kroger, Albertson’s, Acme Markets, Big Y, The Fresh Market, Jewel, Osco Drug, SavOn, A&P, Farm Fresh, Spartan Stores, Sports Authority, Universal Studios, Southeastern Freightlines, are among the companies using Unicru.
Unicru currently, in addition to personality testing, also performs instant online background checks on applicants in the locations researchers tested.
Because Unicru deploys the largest number of kiosks and has tested millions of employees, and because researchers had physical access to a number of Unicru-driven kiosks, researchers chose to study the Unicru kiosks in detail. Each retail outlet that boasts a Unicru-powered kiosk also has a Unicru-powered Web site. Researchers looked at both mediums.
Researchers, for practical purposes of focusing the study, decided upon Sports Authority kiosks and its associated Web sites to study. Researchers had physical access to four different Sports Authority kiosks. Researchers applied at the kiosks in person, and researchers applied at the online Unicru-driven Sports Authority Web site. <http://www.thesportsauthority.com/corp/index.jsp?page=jobs> .
Researchers applied multiple times, and asked volunteers to apply in other states and report their experiences.
Each screen the researchers saw was recorded and compared with the Sports Authority online site, and was found to be almost identical in terms of the job application process.
After the study was complete, researchers checked the results against other Unicru- powered kiosks at Albertsons retail stores.
2. Where are the Privacy Policies?
At the minimum, Unicru and all employers using kiosks should post or provide the following:
• A clearly posted policy that outlines all of the ways that Unicru and each third party involved in the job application process stores, handles, shares, and deletes user data.
• Written, take-away papers or brochures for job applicants with all relevant contact information for background check companies and any third parties involved in or relevant to the job seekers’ transactions with the kiosk.
• Kiosks have become part of the employment infrastructure, particularly for retail workers. This piece of the infrastructure absolutely needs to come into line with Fair Information Practices and provide the highest level of privacy notice, disclosure, and openness to job seekers.
3. Problematic Fair Credit Reporting Act Issues
Researchers physically visited the Unicru-powered kiosks in Sports Authority stores in the San Diego region to check for compliance with the FCRA provisions. In areas outside of San Diego, researchers called each and every store in California and spoke to managers to acquire the information.
Researchers found that the Sports Authority stores with Unicru-powered kiosks do not, practically speaking, provide a meaningful way for job seekers to withdraw electronic consent.
4. What Constitutes Valid Electronic Consumer Authorization for Furnishing a Credit Report?
When job seekers apply at a Unicru kiosk at Sports Authority, they walk through a series of screens in which they agree electronically to allow Edge Information Management to conduct a background check on them. (See Appendix A for the screens.)
The exact wording of these screens is critically important because the Fair Credit Report Act has numerous provisions that protect job seekers in the area of employment background checks. Section 604(a)(2) of the FCRA provides that “any consumer reporting agency may furnish a consumer report in accordance with the written instructions of the consumer to whom it relates.” The translation being, a job seeker needs to give written instructions, or authorization, before a background check may be conducted. An employment background check that is conducted without written authorization is illegal under the FCRA.
In Unicru’s kiosk space and at Unicru-driven Web sites, then, the question of electronic authorization comes into play. Is Unicru getting legitimate authorization for the instant background checks at its kiosks and online application sites?
In 1999, the FTC addressed questions about how to procure adequate consumer authorization for background checking via electronic means. In particular, FTC’s “Landever” staff opinion letter states that a consumer simply making one mouse click on a screen does not constitute adequate electronic consumer consent.
That being said, the FCRA does allow electronic consumer consent in Section 604(b)(2)(B)(ii), which “provides that certain job applicants may authorize a consumer report for employment purposes electronically as well as orally or in writing.”
The FTC further clarified electronic consent to background checks in its Zalenski staff opinion letter regarding the ESIGN Act Section 101 which gave legal force to electronic signatures. The letter outlined three important issues for job seekers:
1. Whether or not the electronic signature is valid will depend on the specific facts of each situation.
2. The electronic signature must clearly convey the consumer’s instructions.
3. The FTC stated that as specified by Section 101(e) of the ESIGN Act, that consumer’s electronic authorization “must be in a form that can be retained and retrieved in perceivable form.”
5. Is Unicru compliant with the FCRA regarding electronic consent?
Regarding the validity of Unicru’s electronic consent methodology, it is quite likely that a court proceeding would find that Unicru’s series of questions to job applicants would be construed as valid electronic consent because it involves more than one mouseclick. (Landever letter).
Regarding the clarity of the consumer’s instructions, the Unicru kiosks are designed to clearly convey the job seeker intent. This, too, would likely stand up to a legal challenge.
6. Is Unicru providing meaningful opportunity for jobseekers to revoke electronic consent?
One of the Unicru screens states that jobseekers have the right to revoke electronic consent at any time during the application process. The screen then instructs job seekers to contact a store manager or person in charge at the location and sign a “paper Authorization” if they choose to revoke electronic authorization. If a paper application were actually available, Unicru/Sports Authority would be in compliance with the applicable provisions of the FCRA.
But when researchers physically entered the stores and applied for jobs, researchers asked Sports Authority managers for paper authorization forms during the application process. There was not a single instance in which that piece of paper or opportunity was provided to researchers.
Further, while applying at the Unicru-powered Web sites at SportsAuthority.com researchers stopped and called store managers to ask them about getting the authorization in paper form. Researchers were repeatedly told it was only available electronically.
8. Conclusion regarding electronic authorization
If Unicru, Sports Authority, and other companies seeking to conduct instant background checks with electronic authorization at kiosks want to truly comply with all of the provisions of the FCRA , as a practical matter , compliance will need to be “ground truthed” and tested at retail kiosk locations. If a manager is supposed to provide a paper authorization form, those forms should be available.
Roadmap: Job Application Kiosks – Why is there less privacy for retail workers?: B. The Role of Unicru in the Kiosk and Retail Job Sector