Should you require original documents during recruitment?

Labor Law 7 min read

During recruitment, what documentary requirements are you supposed to ask from applicants? Are you supposed to get the original documents from them? Or would a photocopy of these application documents be ok? What does the law say about them? We tackle these in today's article.

Typically, when an applicant gets accepted for employment in the Philippines, they get asked to submit certain documents to complete their 201 file. These may include:

  • Birth certificate;
  • Transcript of School Records;
  • License or Diploma; and
  • NBI Clearance.

Let's start with the fundamentals so everyone can follow along easily. Can employers really ask for these things during hiring?

That's a definite yes. These fall within the management's prerogative (or management's right) which says that employers are free to impose rules and procedures as long as they intended to govern aspects of employment. The credentials of the employees definitely fall within an "aspect of employment" and therefore can be required.

Now that we've settled whether the employer can require these documents, let's tackle the next consideration: what format would these requirements take? Do you need the originals or would copies suffice?

What seems to be the issue?

Apparently, a lot of questions and complaints stem from these requirements. And what's surprising is that complaints come from both applicants and employers. Let's tackle some concerns they bring up.

The applicant's side

Employees complain that the employers are requiring them to tender the originals which they worked so hard for. They also want the option to bring these documents along if they leave the company so they can use it for future employment applications. You may be thinking, "God, these are just documents. Why are some people making a big deal about them. Can't they just get new ones after?"

Well, the procurement of official documents in the Philippines isn't really a walk in the park. First of all, it is time-consuming to request them. You have to apply with each and every government agency or private institution involved.

You file a request and line up to be able to get your copy of the document. Lucky if you get the document within the same day. If not, you have to wait and make consistent followups anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. For each document.

Second, the application may get expensive. I recently applied for a passport renewal for my family. And guess what? I had to submit birth and marriage certificates. I requested these documents via the online portal. Total bill went over a thousand because the charging is counted per document and you have to pay for shipping.

If you are a new job applicant with no existing means of income, that application fee may be burdensome. Good thing that the government has recently stepped up to mitigate this issue thru the "First-time Job seekers Assistance Act (RA 11261)" (see details here). But again, there will still be some expenses involved in processing them.

Why is this an issue with Employers?

Let's go to the other side. Why are some employers making a big issue out of the documents? Probably because of bad previous experiences. Unfortunately in the Philippines, there is a proliferation of fake credentials. ID's, diplomas, transcripts of records.

I personally have handled numerous cases where employees filed fictitious or fake job requirements and I handled their termination proceedings. So yes, I can personally tell you that this happens in real life. A lot more than you would think.

What are the ways employers handle this issue?

There are 2 extreme ways of handling I've seen employers handle this issue.

Full Drill Sergeant Mode

Some employers, seeking to protect themselves, have dug in and required the originals of the documents in all cases. That way, they would be in a better position to verify and authenticate the documents if they are real. It is hard to verify the authenticity just from photocopies. So coming from that perspective, yes, I get you guys.

In this mode, you trust no one during recruitment. And for the applicant to get anywhere with you, they have to jump thru the hoops, get all the originals that you need to them to, and submit them pronto. Again, if you do this, you will run into the same problems that I mentioned earlier, such as subjecting your new applicants to time and expense considerations. It might be too much for them, for you to require all originals all the time.

This also begs the question: do you really need the originals? What purpose are you asking the originals for? Is it just to make your files look better? Are you using it for authentication purposes? Is there a better way rather than asking for originals?

Give the Benefit of the Doubt

On the other end of the spectrum, you have an extremely loose treatment of the recruitment requirements. Some employers, eager to get the applicants working as soon as possible, just ask them to submit photocopies of the job requirements or worse, just ask and write down the details themselves without verification.

Imagine the employee's first day. Employer goes, "What year did you graduate?"
The employee stammers with, "1998 Ma'am, from ____ University." The employer nods in agreement and says, "Okay. Let's write that one in your 201 records. Now report to your supervisor and get to work! They need you immediately!"

On the other end of the spectrum, what if you ask for soft just photo copies of these documents? You may be prone to false records or if you don't even ask for photo copies of the papers, you might be fooled into accepting a non qualifying applicant. My suggestion is go to the middle ground. I don't suggest any of these extreme positions. First one makes things too difficult, while the second one fails to protect the company from non-qualified employees.

What do I recommend?

Ronald Reagan said something very wise in December 1987 after the signing of the INF Treaty with Mikhail Gorbachev. I teach it to my workshop students and it applies here as well:

"Trust, but verify."

Always start out with the assumption that the employee is not out to get you or put one over you. Trust that things are generally in order, but put some mechanisms in place to protect the business in a systematic way. That means put some procedures in place which are repeatable so that you can do it over and over again.

A Trial Court Procedure you can use for recruitment

Let me share with you a technique that lawyers use in court that you can adopt as your system. When a case involves valuable original documents, like a land title for example, the court is very hesitant to take custody of the originals. Why? Because if something happens to that original, the court will be faulted for that.

So what we usually do is that we hold a separate hearing for the marking of the evidence. The Judge directs the Clerk of Court to gather the opposing parties with all of their documents and asks them to present these documents. You have the original and a photocopy together. You give this to the opposing lawyer for them to compare them to each other.

Once the opposing lawyer is convinced that the original and the photocopy have the same information on them, the Clerk of Court then stamps your photocopy and marks it as an Exhibit. That is not part of the court records as evidence and you get to take your original home.

For purposes of employment records, why don't we adopt the same thing? Ask Your employees to photocopy the originals of their documents and come to the HR office where they can present both documents. There, you can pretend that you're the Clerk of Court and compare these two.

Once you're convinced that the photocopy is an accurate reproduction of the original document, you can stamp the photocopy as "Authenticated" and sign with your initials with the date. You then give the original back to the employee. This way, the 201 file now contains an authenticated version of the requirement and everyone leaves happy.

Why does this procedure work?

  1. You don't ask your employees to get the documents over and over again for multiple purposes. They get to keep the original, so no additional work needed in case they are required to submit a birth or marriage certificate down the line for other purposes (passport applications anyone?).
  2. You can sleep well at night knowing that the document in your custody is a faithful representation of the original. There's nothing to be worried about in terms of getting misled by a non-qualified employee.

Both parties are happy because all the interests involved are addressed. As long as the employer diligently compares the information in the 2 documents, there's nothing to be afraid of. Now isn't this a wonderful way to live.

I hope this suggestion was able to help you rethink the way you do recruitment procedures in your business. Do you have any other questions about recruitment that you want us to cover in future articles? Feel free to fill in the questionnaire below and we'll take a look.

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