Discrimination occurs when someone is treated differently because of a protected characteristic, such as their gender, race, age or disability. Any discrimination, including unconscious bias, during the hiring process can have significant legal consequences for a business owner, and can keep them from hiring the right individual for the position.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, race, national origin, sex, disability and religion and generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

Many state and local anti-discrimination laws provide for additional protection for things such as marital status or gender identity. These laws may have a lower employee threshold, or no threshold at all.

Common Forms

Discrimination can happen as a result of unconscious bias. According to Business Insider, people tend to favor individuals similar to themselves when making hiring decisions. Even when people have the best of intentions, their tendency to gravitate towards those with like qualities may inadvertently exclude members of protected classes. Unconscious bias can also occur when policies or procedures appear netural on their face but dispropotionately impact members of a protected class.

Many studies suggest that employment discrimination is a contributing factor in the low employment and wage levels of people with disabilities. One recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that applicants with disabilities received 26 percent fewer expressions of interest from potential employers, and points to bias as the reason.

Avoiding Unconscious Bias

One way to avoid unconscious bias is to use a professional staffing agency or rely on multiple recruitment sources that focus on the hiring diverse candidates. These organizations understand the importance of incoporating inclusion in a business and have the resources to identify a diverse network of candidates.

When outside assistance is not an option, businesses can ensure multiple persons are involved in the recruitment and interview process to get a range of opinions on candidates. Take steps to eliminate any information on a resume that could identify a candidate's protected characteristics. This could include removing names, as names can indicate a person's race or ethnicity.

Many hiring managers at small and midsized businesses prefer unstructured interviews, but they may ask more difficult questions when meeting with a candidate they've assumed is underqualified. Use structured interviews, ask the same or similar questions to all candidates and employ standardized assessment tools to help avoid unintentional discrimination. Train and remind managers not to ask questions that can elicit certain protected information, such as marital status, or the candidate's religion.

Hiring managers must be sure to assess candidates based directly on the skills required for a particular position. Don't impose requirements on candidates that are unrelated or unnecessary for the job position. It's important to rely on the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures when establishing pre-employment testing processes.

Any form of discrimination can land an organization in hot water. By taking the right steps, you can help your company avoid damages to its reputation and help ensure employees are hired based on their qualifications for the position. Be sure to review your job description, interviewing and hiring practices with experienced legal counsel who can help you navigate the HR risks.

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Tags: discrimination Risk Management Recruitment