Bureau whacks two licensees for $8K and $20K for inadequate recruitment and record-keeping

The Media Bureau celebrated the end of 2010 (or maybe the arrival of 2011) by serving warning that, for every single full-time job opening – no exceptions – broadcasters must notify multiple recruitment sources that are likely to refer applicants from diverse backgrounds. Exclusive reliance on over-the-air announcements and Internet postings will not do the trick.  Neither will reliance on word-of-mouth or unsolicited walk-ins standing alone.  And, of course, all notification activities (and other recruitment minutiae) must be documented in the annual EEO report that stations place in their public inspection file on the anniversary of their renewal application filing.

Happy New Year!

This celebratory heads-up was delivered in Notices of Apparent Liability (NAL) issued to two separate broadcast groups late on December 29.

In one case involving several stations in small Oregon communities, the licensee apparently failed to include its annual EEO public file reports for 2004 and 2005 with its 2005 renewal application. The Bureau wrote to the licensee, asking for those two reports – and oh, by the way, while you’re at it, please send along reports for 2006, 2007 and 2008, too. (The Bureau didn’t get around to asking for any of these reports until 2009. Time, apparently, was not of the essence when it came to processing the 2005 renewal applications.) And although it didn’t ask for the 2009 report, Bureau staffers checked that report out anyway on the licensee’s website. (You do remember that you have to post your most recent annual report on your website, don’t you?)

The reports showed that there were 29 vacancies during the 2003-2009 period. For six the licensee relied only on “walk-in/mail-in” applicants. For another seven, it relied exclusively on postings on Internet websites. For 15, it relied strictly on over-the-air-announcements.  Conclusion? The licensee violated the EEO rule “because it failed to use recruitment sources sufficient to disseminate information concerning the vacancies as required”.  

The licensee also didn’t have records of (a) the number of people it interviewed for each opening or (b) the recruitment source from which each interviewee learned of the opening. (While not every applicant is willing to disclose where he or she learned of an opening, you must ask. This requirement applies only to applicants you interview, not all applicants.)

Total fine: $20,000 – $16K for failing to recruit properly, $1K for failing to keep required records, $2K for incompleteness of public file reports, and another $1K for failing to adequately analyze the effectiveness of recruitment efforts.

The second NAL involved a group of stations in small communities in Missouri picked in 2008 as part of the Commission’s random audit process. During the reporting periods ending in 2006 and 2007, the licensee had 24 vacancies. For three openings, it relied on walk-in applicants; and for one opening each it relied on, respectively, word-of-mouth, a business referral, and an employee referral. The licensee noted that it broadcast “generic recruitment ads that promote different careers in radio and working at [the licensee]”, even when there were no current openings, and walk-in applicants may apply because of these spots. The public file report in one year failed to list job titles of seven vacancies, classifying them as “other”.

Total fine: $8,000 – $5K for failing to recruit properly, $2K for incomplete public file reports, and $1K for inadequate analysis of its recruitment efforts.

Both licensees used on-air or Internet announcements to get the word out about employment opportunities. These recruitment methods are likely to reach a race- and gender-blind audience, and people who want to work at your station are likely to listen to your station. Indeed, we hear from broadcasters all the time that on-air and Internet announcements are the only methods that produce any results. By contrast, mass mailings to organizations supposedly able to spread the word reportedly do little but use up postage and paper.

But to the FCC, it doesn’t matter. You must publicize every full-time opening to a variety of specific sources. There is no requirement that any of these sources ever refer any job applicants (much less any qualified ones), although consistent non-response is supposed to be a reason to look for new sources. Remember as well that any recruitment source that affirmatively requests to be notified must receive notifications of all openings.

Particularly surprising here is the conclusion of the Media Bureau’s EEO enforcers that “reliance on Internet sources is inadequately broad recruitment”.  In view of the Commission’s rabid promotion of broadband as a panacea for just about every conceivable economic problem, it’s difficult to understand why the Media Bureau is pooh-poohing broadband and insisting instead on Last Century approaches which have historically proven ineffective.

No matter. We are headed into a new cycle of broadcast license renewals, which will require EEO showings from all non-exempt licensees. (See below for exemptions.) After an eight-year respite, some stations may have gotten a tad rusty on the EEO front. It’s important NOT to let that happen. When you file your renewal application, you will have to submit your two most recent EEO public file reports. So even if you work extra hard to make your latest report complete, you could still get caught with your pants down if the report from the year before fell short.

While not mentioned in last week’s cases, all non-exempt licensees must also undertake two or four (depending on staff and market size) EEO “initiatives” every two years, drawn from a list of activities set out in the EEO rule (47 C.F.R. Section 73.2080). If you haven’t read that section lately, it would be a very good idea to read it now.

(A note on exemptions. Employment units with not more than four full-time (i.e., at least 30 hours/week) employees are exempt from the EEO recruiting/reporting rules.  “Full-time” means at least 30 hours per week. Employees with a 20% or greater ownership interest in the licensee are not counted in determining staff size. There are no blanket exemptions for low power TV or noncommercial stations.  Radio stations with at least five but no more than ten full-time employees do not have to file a mid-term EEO report (Form 397) between license renewals, but they are still subject to other EEO recruitment and reporting obligations (including the annual public file report).  Stations with religious programming formats need not go through a full-scale recruitment process where a specific faith is a relevant qualification for a particular job, but they are still expected to reach out widely to reach qualified potential applicants for those jobs and must recruit fully for positions where faith is not a relevant qualification.)

[Blogmeister’s Note: We have revised the first and eleventh paragraphs of this post to clarify that, at least for the time being, the notification requirement relates only to FULL-TIME positions.  Under the current rules, part-time openings (less than 30 hours per week) are not subject to the recruitment requirement.  However, the FCC at one time proposed to extend the requirement to part-time jobs and may do so in the future.]