How to avoid employment practices liability when you’re hiring

Hiring can be an ordeal. First, you have to figure out what exactly you need. Then you have to come up with the job description and application. Then there’s interviewing all of the eager applicants who want to wow you. Then there’s the selection process, and on-boarding, and training…Eeesh. The last thing you need to come from all of that hard work is someone bringing a lawsuit against your business for discrimination. Hiring is one of the most eggshell-walking times for employers because of the risk of unintentional discrimination that could result in hefty employment practices lawsuits. We’ve put together some tips for you to make sure that you’re going by the book when you’re hiring so you can avoid employment practices risks.

1. Avoid misunderstandings in the job description.

If you know that you need to hire someone, make sure you know exactly what kind of person you need and what role you need them to fill. Your job description needs to be thorough and detailed so that everyone is on the same page. An unqualified candidate might think that they’re qualified according to the job description you provided, and if you choose someone who better fits the position, they might chalk it up to discrimination even though it was an honest choice.

2. Make sure to think through all requirements.

Part of that detailed job description is the requirements for the job. It’s important that you understand what is essential to the job, and you need to be very clear in what the job necessitates. However, you need to make sure that your job requirements don’t limit applicants that are part of protected groups by listing skills or requirements that aren’t strictly necessary.

3. Check over all questions in your application.

First rule of creating job applications: avoid discriminatory questions. Questions about age, race, gender or gender identity, disability, and age are just big no-nos. Don’t ask personal questions. Questions about health history, military background, and criminal records can also be sensitive. Keep in mind that even questions about marital status and children can also be sources of discrimination. Don’t ask about someone’s plans for a future family or pregnancy, either. Bad plan.

Make sure you know the questions you can and can't ask during the hiring process.

Basically, a good job description and application will help the employer remain unbiased. Focus on the skills necessary for the job and work experience.

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4. Cast a wide net while recruiting.

If you want to give everyone the same opportunity to get the job, use a variety of means to advertise the job. Reach a broad pool of applicants. Focus your ad on the skills required for the job and the essential functions, and make sure that there’s no preference as far as age, religion, or gender.

5. Train your interviewers.

The interview can be a very sensitive part of the hiring process. The interviewer has to know how to speak carefully to avoid accidentally phrasing a question in a way that makes it discriminatory. It might be a good idea to have the questions written out word for word before the interview. The interviewer should only take notes on questions directly related to the position.

A small instance of misspeaking can be disastrous. For example, asking “Can you lift 50 pounds multiple times throughout the day?” is different than asking “Do you have any physical limitations that would prevent you from lifting 50 pounds?” The questions should only ask if the applicant can accomplish the job, not why they can’t. The goal is to get positive information from the applicant about why they’re suited for the job.

Your interviewers should be trained so they know how to handle the hiring process.

Your interviewers should be unbiased. They should have the job description, a set of questions, and an impartial rating form to use. They should also know exactly what to ask and what not to ask. Be sure to choose your interviewers carefully and give them the tools they need.

6. Don’t forget the written consent for background checks.

If you’re going to run background checks on an applicant after you’ve offered them the job, you need to make sure to get written consent to do so. Otherwise, you’re invading someone’s privacy. Of course, you don’t want to be accused of negligent hiring if something goes terribly wrong, but you need to be careful not to overstep. If you don’t properly investigate the applicant’s background or test their skills and they end up hurting someone, the question that will be asked is if you should have known that the disaster could happen. If the answer is yes, you could be guilty of negligent hiring.

7. Include an “Equal Opportunity” statement.

Make it very clear that your company is committed to offering everyone the same chance to get the job by including a statement that clarifies that you’re an equal opportunity employer.

8. Be cautious while checking references.

Once you’ve made a conditional job offer, it’s okay to reach out to the provided references. Remember, you can’t ask the reference anything you can’t ask the applicant. Stick to the basics – how long did they work there, that sort of thing. Don’t place too much stock in the opinions of the reference, only the facts.

9. Medical tests and skills tests need to be approached carefully.

If you have any medical tests or drug screenings as part of your hiring process, you need to be careful of when you ask the applicants to take them. You can’t have a pre-offer physical or medical test, but you can offer a job and make it dependent on the applicant passing the physical or drug test.

Be careful of when you ask the applicant to complete a drug test when hiring.

As you can see, hiring is more complicated than it seems. As an employer, you need to take care that you’re giving everyone an equal opportunity and that you’re not unintentionally making people – potential employees and customers included – feel discriminated against. Approach hiring with the goals of finding the best candidate for the job and staying within the bounds of state and national anti-discrimination laws.

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