Screening out older workers for jobs is a violation of anti-discrimination rules and also limits a firm’s ability to find the best employee, said H. Joan Ehrlich, district director for the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. By contrast, casting a wide net to look at all sorts of candidates can boost the bottom line and preserve a good reputation, she suggested.
"Not discriminating is not rocket science," Ehrlich said. "It makes great business sense and it’s the honorable thing to do."
Ehrlich spoke Tuesday, November 14, at a seminar in San Francisco on discrimination in recruiting. Sponsored by several recruiting industry vendors, the event featured a panel of government officials along with Greg Hammond, general counsel for HR outsourcer TriNet, and John Fox, partner with the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips and a former official with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. Panelists at the November 14 event took questions from a small live audience as well as queries from people attending a webcast of the event.
The recruiting field has changed dramatically during the past decade with the advent of online job applications, the emergence of recruitment outsourcing and the rise of offshore-based recruiting activities, where recruiters in other countries help fill U.S. jobs.
During Tuesday’s seminar, Daniel Parrillo, president of technical staffing firm Strategi, raised the question of offshore recruiters violating discrimination law without fear of punishment by U.S. regulators.
"Nobody is monitoring these third-party outsourcing recruiters," he said.
But David Offen-Brown, supervisory trial attorney with the EEOC, said U.S. clients of bad-behaving offshore recruiters are liable.
"Even if the employer denies it placed a discriminatory order, if the recruiter did [discriminate], the employer is on the hook," he said.
Globalization more broadly leads to challenges on the discrimination front. Fox said managers of American workers may be in other countries and break U.S. law out of ignorance.
"Well-intentioned people don’t know the rules," he said.
Also addressed during the conference was the new set of regulations for federal contractors related to keeping records on Internet applicants. The rule, issued by the OFCCP, took effect February 6, but a grace period gave companies until May 8 to comply.
Confusion has surfaced about the rule, including how it affects the use of "conceptual search" technologies in looking for job candidates. Ronald Hiraga, director in the division of regional operations at the OFCCP, said his agency and the community of federal contractors "are struggling" with the new regulation. Hiraga said the agency has added new questions and answers about the rule to its Web site.
Hammond offered a novel punishment for firms that discriminate in the workplace: Given that employee diversity promotes productivity, the EEOC should force violators to keep discriminating, he suggested.
"They’re bound to be left behind," he said.