Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ready to Hire Again? Strategize Before You Advertise to Avoid Discrimination Claims (Part One)

As the economy turns the corner and business picks up in general, hiring is sure to begin in earnest. There are a lot of potential employees for your business and you should expect a flood of resumes once you advertise your openings.

Before you post the job ad, however, think strategically about your hiring plans. Employees can be invaluable assets as easily as costly mistakes. For small businesses and nonprofits, each hire is a significant investment of time and money. But each “fire” is usually much more costly. One employee with an unprofessional attitude or serious gap in ethics can ruin your reputation if not your entire business.

This two-part series of posts will address the “Pre-Hiring Checklist,” “Inadvertent Discrimination,” “Train and Prepare the Hiring Committee,” and “Inconsistency is the True Hobgoblin.”

Pre-hiring checklist

Ask yourself—or if you are large enough to enjoy a management team, have them discuss—the following questions:

1. How much contact will this person have with our customers, funders, boardmembers and or investors?
2. How important will this person be to our success in the next 6 months? What about the next 3 years?
3. How will our expectations of this person evolve during the next 12-36 months?
4. How easily will we be able to replace this person on short notice?
5. How much time and effort will we actually devote to training and mentoring this new hire?
6. If the position is one that generates revenue, how long will it take for the new hire to generate enough revenue to cover his or her entire compensation package as well as all of the missed revenue during the training and learning phases (i.e., when can we expect them to pass the “initial break-even” point)?
7. What else will we need to hire, buy, lease or divert to get this new hire up to the skill level we expect?
8. How long do we anticipate we will need this new hire?
9. What skills should the new hire already have acquired before reporting to work?
10. What off-duty expectations do we have of employees in this category?

Each question can easily lead to more as you explore the long-term and short-term vision for both the ideal and the worst-case disaster hire. Once the pre-advertising analysis is finished, make sure your job description matches the answers, then draft your advertisement.

Inadvertent Discrimination

As you think through the job expectations, be careful not to develop a physical image of the candidate. Focus only on skills, qualities and capabilities OTHER THAN age, gender, race, national origin or religion. Unless your position fits into a very limited set of exceptions [1], it is illegal to discriminate in any aspect of the employment process on the basis of the following, and questions about these topics are OFF LIMITS:

-> Birthplace
-> Ancestry
-> Culture
-> Linguistic Characteristics that may indicate some protected status
-> Religious Beliefs
-> Gender (including actual and potential pregnancy)
-> Age
-> Physical and Mental Disability

Even though very small businesses may not be covered by the federal laws, it is generally a wise practice to behave in business as if you are covered by them because one day you may be. Some states have equivalent laws and many government contracts require compliance even if the business falls under the size limits. For Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the minimum size is 15 employees. For the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the minimum size is 20 employees. Those employee numbers only have to occur for 20 working weeks in the current or previous work year to put your organization under their umbrellas.

To be continued in the next post...
Important Notes

This article is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult with counsel regarding the specific laws in your area, because they vary extensively from state to state. If your employees have a collective bargaining unit, of course, other rules and limitations will apply, but the guidance above may still be within your reserved management powers if not specifically addressed in the union contract.

[1] A good list of these exceptions and the various anti-discrimination acts is available on the EEOC web site.

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