What can HR managers do to ensure that their recruitment and selection process are not discriminatory?

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Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Recruitment and selection are crucial aspects of the human resources department, and in today's legal environment in the United States, care must be taken to ensure that neither the efforts nor the results are discriminatory or even appear to be discriminatory.  For these processes to result in a diverse work environment is the goal, and that is the very best defense against charges of discrimination. 

Recruitment in many companies is done in ways that yield more of the same race, sex, or ethnic group.  For example, employees will let friends know of an opening.  There is nothing inherently discriminatory about that, but Americans live in remarkably segregated ways, many white people having no black friends or not living in diverse neighborhoods. So the consequences of employee recruitment are that you get more of the same kind of pool.  And then when you use broad spectrum advertising for a position, even though people of all kinds might see a posting, your organization may have begun to have the reputation of being only white, or only black, or only Indian.  And others will not bother to apply if that is the case. 

While there is no legal requirement that one recruit in a way that promotes diversity, it is in the HR manager and company's best interests to work a little harder at this.  For example, a day of recruiting at a historically black college or an all-female may yield some recruits.  Placing ads in smaller neighborhood publications will encourage people of various backgrounds to be interested in a company.  Arranging for internships through local colleges that have highly diverse student populations is another way to do some more long-term recruitment.  Letting a rehabilitation agency know you have positions might elicit some recruits who have disabilities but who can perform the functions of the job quite well.  When you recruit, the qualifications you are seeking should be relevant to the position, because if they are not, they could be perceived as means of keeping out various groups.   If it is not necessary to be able to lift fifty pounds, including this to keep out most women is a terrible idea and may hurt your company later on.  If you are committed to the goal of a diverse workforce, your recruitment should reflect this commitment.  How one recruits in and of itself is not usually a legal issue, but how one recruits can be used as evidence in a discrimination suit, to be sure.

If your selection process consistently results in hiring the best person for the job, you are doing well, since that is the very best defense you have against a discrimination suit.  As you set up a selection process, you need to be sure that it is a consistent process, for example, the same questions being asked of everyone at interviews.  The process should be written down and followed to the letter.   Even before interviews, though, the scrutiny given to all resumes should be consistent, so that it does not turn out later on that all of the applications or resumes of Latinos were discarded.  The selection process must be completely in alignment with the requirements and qualifications of the position, as well. If you are hiring someone because he has ten years experience in some completely unrelated field over a woman who has five years of experience in the work the company does, all other things being equal, you are likely to be accused of sex discrimination.

At interviews, there are some questions that are inherently discriminatory and unlawful, and asking them is a risky business.  For example, asking someone if he or she is married, asking if he or she has children, asking if he or she has childcare are all illegal questions.  Asking someone about his or her general health is illegal, too.  You are permitted to ask a person if he or she can perform the essential functions of the job, and what accommodations might be needed to do the job.  If you can remember that all questions should relate only to the job, you are likely to do fine.  A list of questions asked and notes from each interview should be retained as a means of defense in the event that there is a complaint of discrimination.  

If you recruit intelligently and follow a process that is meant to lead to hiring the best person for the job, you are doing well as an HR manager.  The pool is wider and deeper, allowing you to choose from people who bring perspectives.  The selection process focuses on getting the very best.  The result is a diverse workforce that makes for a much better organization and which is also a very good defense against complaints of discrimination.