It's turning out to be a long, hot summer almost everywhere. For many people that means taking it easy to try and stay cool. But at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), they must have the air conditioning cranked up and plenty of cold drinks in the fridge, because this bulldog organization never seems to take a break from their mission against job discrimination.
Regardless of our varied opinions about "Big Guv'mint," I think most people in the staffing business can agree that this is, on balance, a good thing. Besides the inherent benefits of fairness in the hiring marketplace, it's also good for business. A steady campaign against discrimination based on race, sex, disability, etc. pushes employers away from unfair practices; and because they must still find legitimate reasons to select one candidate over another, the focus shifts to understanding and implementing those criteria. And with a bit of luck, that might even lead to sensible, fact- and test-based hiring decisions.
So much for the big picture. The downside to the crusade for fairness is that designing any selection process is a somewhat risky business. Which means that the more you know about those risks, the better. For a few words of warning, what follows is a discussion from the archives on how to stay out of trouble.
Why you should be worried about the EEOC.
Did you know the EEOC employs a staff of full-time industrial psychologists? You probably don't even care. But you should.
Industrial psychologists are experts who determine whether your selection tools adversely impact protected groups like minorities, females, religious members, and so forth. You usually don't hear from them unless a local EEOC investigator really gets onto your case. And you don't even have to lose in court to get your organization's name in lights or spend the big bucks on attorneys, depositions and settlements.
Bad HR Practices Can Be Expensive
Settlements in discrimination cases typically run to six- or seven-figure sums, not counting the damage done by adverse publicity. And it's not just Bubba's BBQ that gets hit. Here's a very partial list of recent settlements in just one month:
- Lithia Motors
- Rite Aid
- County of Bergen, NJ
- Newman University
- Citizens Bank
- Qwest Communications
- Global Imaging Systems
You can read about hundreds of cases at the EEOC site.
Do you think these problems were just bad luck on the part of these organizations? No. They were the result of bad HR hiring and placement practices.
Ever since 1965, the U.S. government has struggled with how to balance the idealistic needs of society with the practical needs of business. In 1978, they published the "Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures" — a list of practical hiring and placement suggestions about how to get the best people without running afoul of U.S. law. Make no mistake about it, the EEOC may be understaffed, and they may be under-recognized, but when they get their teeth into a legitimate complaint there is no end to the money they will spend to make an example.
What Can You Do?
A while back I attended an annual technical conference of Industrial Psychologists. While I was there, I listened to Dr. Hillary Weiner, an EEOC staff Industrial Psychologist, talk about what they look for when a company is being investigated. Here is the gist what she told the audience:
- The EEOC first looks to see if there is any form of job analysis backing placement decisions.
- They then check to see whether the test method is applicable to the job.
- They examine every decision-making step. If there are multiple hurdles in the placement process, they look at the impact at each hurdle.
- They look to see if the organization has attempted to use alternative methods to reduce adverse impact without sacrificing quality.
- They examine the organization's validation studies to see if they at least followed the minimum procedures.
If you haven't thought about it before, you might want to think about these questions now:
- Why were the HR departments of these organizations caught "asleep at the switch?" The Uniform Guidelines have been around since 1978.
- Is your organization making the same mistakes they did? I'm sure these companies either never heard of the Guidelines, or else they decided they were "professionals" who were immune from challenge.
- Are you prepared to have your company name on the EEOC website? Contracting a professional to do a job analysis, develop a validated placement system and offer some legal advice is much cheaper than and EEOC or OFCCP challenge.
EEOC challenges are often triggered by silly tests that look nothing like the job, internal promotion decisions that are not based on job skills, performance reviews that are not job related, termination decisions that are unsupported by performance data, and interview questions that are not job-related (yes, the EEOC considers interviews to be "tests").
You can read more about what the government wants you to do by downloading the DOL Guidelines.
This is truly an area where what you don't know can hurt you...big time!