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Caring, compassion, and compliance go a long way with new hires. Show your character early with these ethical hiring practices.

There’s no right way to recruit and hire new talent, but there are wrong ways. Besides treating people with respect, which should be a given, laws exist that are designed to steer business owners towards ethical hiring practices. Many of them have to do with discrimination while some of them have to do with FLSA classification and others still deal with things you can and can’t say during an interview.

Especially if you don’t have any human resources training, learning and staying on top of ethical hiring practices can be a challenge. While much of it can be intuitive—don’t discriminate, don’t be offensive —there are often legislated nuances to those rules that you need to follow.

So what do ethical hiring practices look like? Why do you need to follow them? And how do you keep up with changes to compliance legislation?


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ethical hiring practices

4 step path to ethical hiring practices for your business

1. Stay in compliance

Sticking to proper protocol is important for a number of reasons. The first is just general human kindness. If you treat people right from the beginning, they’ll (hopefully) respect you more, which can translate to improved productivity.

Another important reason to remain in compliance is that straying could ultimately cost you a lot of money—even your business. Discrimination, lying, and in some cases, compelling are all behaviors from which candidates are protected under federal, state, and local laws. Failure to comply could result in hefty fines, suspension of licenses, and even the shuttering of your business.

2. Improve employee retention

Besides improved productivity and no legal problems, your business will benefit from ethical hiring practices in a few different ways. For example, when your employees see that you’re an ethical business owner, they will be more likely to stay, which helps reduce turnover in an industry known for low retention rates.

Ethical hiring practices also ensure that you’re protected should someone bring a suit against you. There is one story of an interviewee going to different businesses and asking questions that led interviewers into potentially discriminatory answers. When the person wasn’t hired, they sued for discrimination—and won until someone caught on. Following ethical hiring practices protects your business from the unexpected.

And don’t forget about the good publicity! If you’re an ethical hiring manager, people will talk about it. If your business is ever reviewed online or somewhere else, no one will be able to complain about your hiring practices, and in fact, some might address them specifically as something great about working for your company.


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3. Stay up to date

Perhaps the most challenging thing about ethical hiring practices is knowing the intricacies of the laws. Most people, for instance, know that racial discrimination is illegal, but they don’t know that it’s also illegal to ask someone if they are undocumented. What you can ask instead is whether or not the candidate has authorization to work for any employer in the country without sponsorship. It’s a small difference, but it’s the difference between potential discrimination versus information you need to know.

For that reason, taking a compliance course, especially if you don’t have an HR background, is generally recommended if you do very much work in grey areas like recruiting.

If you already know the basics, the best way to stay current is to subscribe to a human resources organization like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and read up on the monthly happenings in the industry. Another way to keep up is to attend periodic HR training geared towards ethical recruiting. Some of the information may be repetitive, but you’ll also get real-time updates on the state of recruitment.

All discrimination legislation that applies in the workplace also applies towards hiring practices, so as long as your required postings are up to date, that’s another place to find the information you need.

Having legal counsel can also be a huge help, though sometimes costly. Still, if it’s in your budget, it’s worthwhile to have counsel you can check in with from time to time. If you work with them, many will send monthly updates on legal changes that are important for businesses to know.

4. Use common sense

The bottom line is that if you use common sense, you’ll be fine most of the time. It goes back to treating people with dignity and respect. Don’t ask about personal things in an interview; keep it about business. Don’t ask about anything that could potentially be seen as discriminating, such as pregnancy, family status, or household income. Stick with asking about the education or experience necessary for the job. For character assessments, give professional hypotheticals and see how candidates react to those. Always keep it about the business, and for the most part, you’ll stay out of trouble.

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