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Ask an HR Expert: Can We Advertise for Local Applicants Only?

​It's not illegal to advertise for local applicants, but tread carefully—and think about the real reason behind your preference.

A group of business people sitting in front of a window.

HR professionals and hiring managers give many reasons for preferring applicants who live close to the work location. They might want to speed the interview process by eliminating candidates’ travel time or to minimize relocation costs. Or sometimes they fear that a person will have a change of heart at the last minute about relocating.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars employers from discriminating against individuals in employment decisions based on their race, color, sex, national origin and religion. Employers should be careful to not engage in what is called “unintentional discrimination.” That occurs when a hiring practice appears neutral on the surface but ultimately has a negative impact on a protected group. When companies limit candidates to a particular geographic area, for example, the result may be an adverse impact on a specific race—and that can be problematic, regardless of how good your intentions are.

Another downside is that you may be missing out on excellent candidates. Consider a well-qualified individual from Seattle who applies for a job in rural Pennsylvania. You may assume the person would need significant assistance with travel and relocation expenses and might not be satisfied with moving from a big city to a small town. In reality, however, he or she may have grown up in the local area and may want to move back to be closer to family and friends.

Think about the real reason for your preference for local candidates. Instead of fearing major relocation expenses, consider stating in the job posting that such costs aren’t covered. If time is of the essence, indicate a specific interview and decision date. And clearly identify the needs of the business rather than making assumptions that might result in an adverse impact on a protected class.

Erin Patton, SHRM-SCP, is an HR knowledge advisor for the Society for Human Resource Management.

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