Friday, August 21, 2009

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

In the first post of this two-part series, I covered the “Pre-Hiring Checklist” and “Inadvertent Discrimination.” This post addresses the importance of training and having a consistent, reliable business practice within your hiring process.

Train and Prepare Your Hiring Committee

All of your preparations will be useless unless you adequately share the vision and guidelines with everyone who is part of the hiring process—including your receptionists and support staff. Do not leave it to chance that an uninformed staff member who may only interact with a prospect one time can slip up with a comment about something on the “off limits list.”

If you can, train everyone at one time and well before the first phone inquiries come in. If not, at least get to everyone expected to be in each step of the process, starting with those who handle phone, email, in-person and other inquiries. Make a small cheat sheet to give them at training, ideally written in “Do” language, rather than “Do Not,” to avoid planting the wrong words in their minds. Some use a two-column approach, with the "OK" list on the left, and "Not OK" list on the right. For example:

OK-------------------------------------Not OK

“Where did you fly in from today?”-----“What country are you from, anyway?”
“Have you worked in sales long?”-------“How old are you?”
“The [weather] is really [whatever]!”---“You talk like someone from Russia.”

If at all practicable, track the EEO profile of your applicants just as you do your employees for the EEO-1 report. This could be in the form of voluntary questions on the web application screen, as many now have, or in some separate form with no identifying details on it given directly to the HR officer of your organization and separated from the employment application and resume. Ideally, collect race and gender only in an anonymous fashion. Never try to guess based on surname, first name, etc.

Inconsistency is the True Hobgoblin

Finally, take extensive steps to make sure all interactions with all applicants are consistent, fair and respectful. In other words, treat everyone the same to the extent you can and document how you did. Ideally, your organization already has in place a structured, formal procedure for the hiring (and separation) process. If not, here are some considerations for standardization.

1. All job openings must be advertised by and all resumes and applications must go through one office or officer, such as your Human Resources (HR) manager. This makes it easier to keep track of the process, resumes and activity related to each hire. The right HR officer can keep you out of trouble 9 times out of 10 if he or she is part of the effort from the start.

2. All offers of employment must be issued by the HR officer. No matter who makes the decisions on start date, salary, etc., let the HR officer issue the offer letter. That way you know it goes out in a standardized form and no one is treated differently allegedly on an impermissible basis.

3. All offers of employment must be in writing. End all compensation and employment term discussions with caveats such as, “Of course, it all has to be consistent with our internal policies and practices.”

4. All letters or indications of acceptance must be given to the HR officer. Create the official “POC” for this process and stick with it. That way, you can rest assured that the employee manual, benefits enrollment forms, etc., all go out timely and consistently. The last thing you need is for a pregnant new employee to allege discrimination because her benefits were delayed when the HR officer did not “get the memo.”[1]

With proper preparation and solid execution, you will start this new economic cycle with the best new staff to help you grow beyond your goals in coming years!
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] For many of the same reasons, all notices of resignation must be given to the HR officer, all resignations must be accepted in writing by an officer of the organization and given to the HR officer and all separation agreements must be issued by the HR officer. Once you have this in place, you will regret having taken so long to do it.

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