How to Practice Safe Hiring in 2015

headhunt employment job applicants public domainHave you ever gone to a Chinese restaurant where every server seemed to be of Asian descent?

Or do you know anyone, ahem, who has been served in a Hooters by anyone other than an attractive woman?

Please spot me as I tread on somewhat dangerous ground, but I think we all know that these situations are quite commonplace and in some cases – as with Hooters – they are a major component of the business model (no pun intended).

However, businesses need to be very careful to obey state and federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination – as one New York City restaurant found out recently.

Want ad wording

Owners of Sistina, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side, got slapped with a $5,000 fine for using the word “hostess” in a Craig’s List ad. (They are currently fighting the fine.) The word “hostess” is gender specific, which is a no-no per the state’s Commission on Human Rights.

Also, the commission “tested” the restaurant by sending two email replies to the ad, one from a male name and one from a female name. The commission says that only the response from the female name was opened.

The restaurant says that it originally wrote the ad without giving it much thought and that failing to open the email from the male name could have just been an oversight.

While we don’t know the ultimate disposition of this case, it does highlight the care business owners need to take during the hiring process. First, your attitude cannot be casual. You need to be familiar with the law, perhaps to the point of consulting a lawyer – especially if you’re new to hiring.

Protected classes

Over the years, the 1964 Civil Rights Act has been amended to prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, age (40 or over) and disability. You can find a list of prohibited policies and practices on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website. State or local laws may go further, naming groups such as homosexuals or transgenders.

People who feel they have been discriminated against under the federal law need to file a complaint with the EEOC. However, note that in the New York case, the state commission acted on its own and apparently not at the behest of an applicant who felt he had been discriminated against. This underscores the value of consulting a lawyer to be sure you’re starting off on solid ground.

As a general rule, start the employment process with a good job description. When you put the job requirements in writing, it makes them easier to review by yourself and others to be certain you are not mixing in any elements that could be considered discriminatory.

Stick to the script

Further, when you interview you need to stick to discussing the actual job requirements per your description and not accidently slide into areas prohibited by law. Also, it’s a good idea to have standard questions that you pose to each applicant. This will help you keep the conversation focused.

I’m hoping that 2015 will be a major growth year for small businesses and if that materializes, many of you will be in the hiring mode. Don’t let a careless slip cost you big money and send you to court.