Older applicants were denied jobs, after being told they were overqualified. Or the employer had a no-hire policy for disabled workers or preferred hiring one racial or ethnic group over others.
These trends in hiring in recent years show that discrimination in hiring remains alive and well, EEOC officials said in hearings last month.
About 6 percent of all the charges individuals bring to the EEOC allege hiring discrimination, and age discrimination is the largest of that category followed closely by racial discrimination. Thousands of workers may be denied jobs each year because of hiring discrimination. Yet discrimination in hiring can be very hard to prove, especially if you don’t have inside contacts who will tell you who was hired and who was passed by like a stalled car on the Interstate.
There are some warning signs job seekers can watch for, including personality or other test that has a clear bias in the questions; seeing some candidates land immediate interviews when others who are very qualified are turned away or given a “we’ll be in touch” brush off; and a request for a photo early in the process. An interview who asks questions about your race or ethnicity or religion, or who wants to know if you plan to have more children, may be making polite conversation or they could be questionable, said Tanisha Wilburn, an EEOC attorney advisor.
Requesting a credit check may or may not indicate issues, though many employers say they are important for jobs involving cash handling or other financials and the EEOC is still considering a position on their use in hiring.
If you run into something questionable, you could say you’re uncomfortable providing the information or ask a question back: “How does this relate to the position I’m seeking?” Wilburn suggests.
Sometimes it makes a difference whether an HR interviewer or the decision-maker is asking the questions. Sometimes the HR person is merely checking the diversity of its applicant pool, said Aaron Konopasky, another EEOC attorney advisor. “Not any one thing is going to show that there’s employment discrimination going on,” he said. Often it takes investigators digging into the company’s hiring patterns and practices and decision-making to find out.
Here’s some more advice from the two EEOC attorneys on how to handle the possibility of hiring discrimination:
- Take notes right away. Write a narrative of what was inappropriate, Wilburn suggested. Include dates, times, people who were there and other details – and write the notes as soon as possible as the inappropriate agist or racist comments were made.
- Report your concerns to an HR or diversity committee representative. “If they’re serious about diversity efforts, they will want to know,” she said. Even if they’re not, your email or call will be further documentation of what occurred.
- Check out the online resources of the EEOC to learn more or walk you through a potential claim.
- Talk to an EEOC intake specialist; someone at state or local fair hiring agency or organization. They will help you with your concern and may get enough information to file a charge, or to launch an investigation, Konopasky said.
- Wait – but not too long. You may want to wait until the job is filled before considering filing a charge. In most cases, you have 180 days after the discrimination occurred to file a complaint with the EEOC.
If you feel you were treated very unfairly, it may make sense to walk away from the job opportunity, unless of course it’s the only one you have. Before you do that, make sure you’re not overreacting or taking something out of context. Talk to a close friend, a career advisor or an HR person about the incident. Sometimes a second option can be useful – and you’re also helping document what happened with those conversations too.