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Avoid inadvertent discrimination
By Pamela Bauman

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, all businesses — large or small — must avoid discriminating against any protected class in the course of their employee hiring, firing, promoting, disciplinary actions and day-to-day interactions.

While many managers are familiar with how not to discriminate against their current employees, some inadvertently use illegal practices in the hiring process. Here are some things to keep in mind when you are hiring:

• Stereotyping. It is unlawful to make an employment decision based on stereotypes or assumptions about the abilities, traits or performance of individuals of a certain sex, race, age, religion, or ethnic group as well as individuals with disabilities.

• Discrimination by association. It is also illegal to deny employment because of marriage to, or association with, an individual of a particular race, religion, national origin or with a disability or because a person participates in various schools or places of worship associated with a particular race, ethnicity or religion.

• National origin. Title VII also prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin. That includes requiring applicants to speak only English, unless English is critical to your business.

• Religious accommodation. Regarding religious discrimination, employers must not discriminate against candidates who indicate that they need to have their work schedule adjusted to accommodate their religious observances.

• Pregnancy. Sexual discrimination in the hiring process can sometimes be manifested in an employer’s decision to not hire an individual due to pregnancy, just as discrimination against a disabled job applicant would exist if you refused to hire because of a disability. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you are required to make reasonable accommodations for qualified disabled individuals.

In addition to these actions, other practices that could verge on transgressing Title VII also include preventing someone from competing for employment, influencing someone to withdraw from applying for a job help or hurt another candidate’s employment opportunity, or giving one applicant an advantage over others.

No matter how large (or small) your practice, get the counsel of an experienced employment and labor lawyer to review all of your employment practices, including hiring, to assure that they are in compliance with all federal and state laws.

Pamela Bauman is human resources director for the Alcott Group (, a professional employer organization (PEO), which provides HR support and employer services to small- and mid-sized organizations. She may be contacted at


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