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Hiring: Best Practices To Avoid Discrimination Disputes

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

Real life scenario: company interviews a candidate.

The interviewer asks the candidate about their age. It was done in passing so wasn't a direct correlation with the job, just part of the conversation.

Company decided not to hire the candidate. So the candidate complains to DOL about age discrimination.

DOL goes after company for discrimination. Company ends up paying out over $10,000 for the case to the candidate.

All because the interviewer asked about age.

We see this kind of thing happen all the time and we want to help you protect your business from these kinds of risks.

So here are some best practices to train on and implement in your workplace with whoever will be doing interviewing / hiring.

1. Keep It Professional

The number one rule is to keep it professional. You can still BRT with candidates without getting personal or off-topic.

Keep the questions job related. Focus on their knowledge, skills and experience; and the requirements for the job.


You don't need to know their race, ethnicity, disability, religion, whether they served in the military, or how old they are.

The exception to the age question is verifying they are over 18. But again, don't ask how old they are.

The question is asked like this: Are you over 18?

You're less likely to wander into dangerous territory if you keep it professional.

2. You Don't Need To Know Everything

Again, while it's good and important to be friendly, approachable, and conversational, there are things you simply don't need to know or find out in the interview process.

  • Steer clear of family, kids, and marriage – and whether they want or have any of those things.

  • Also, there are certain benefits all employees are entitled to. However it's bad practice to ask about their use of or opinions on such benefits in an interview.

  • Don't ask if the employee has used benefits in the past or if they've used workers comp.

  • Don't ask about sick leave or FMLA.

  • Don't ask about disabilities that may need accommodation – leave it up to them to inform you

  • And of course leave politics alone ;)

3. Avoid Interview Bias

Even the best of us fall prey to interview bias. In today's world hiring managers need to be vigilant about conducting interviews that are non-discriminatory in nature. Here is a short list of interview bias to avoid:

  • Stereotyping. Stereotyping involves making generalized opinions about how people from a protected class such as sex, religion, age, race, etc. appear, think, act, feel or respond. For example, assuming a male would prefer being employed in a construction job over a teaching job.

  • Inconsistency. Some managers utilize different sets of questions to interview for the same job position amongst different individuals. For example, asking Hispanic candidates about their bilingual skills versus Caucasian applicants is not a recommended practice.

  • First Impression. First impressions can leave a lasting impression. Sometimes during the interview process, the interviewer takes the first thing he or she notices about the candidate and forms his/her opinion regarding the applicant on the first impression. This bias may benefit or harm the candidate’s chances of selection.

  • Halo/Horn Effect. If the interviewer finds one good trait, he or she will favor the candidate (halo). When the interviewer finds one negative trait, he or she will see that to be a disqualifier for the position (horn).

  • Contrast Effect. Contrast bias is present when candidates are compared against each other rather than evaluated based on the job requirements. The tendency is to base a candidate’s individual ranking on one's position relative to others in the group. If the interview pool consists of a number of outstanding candidates, an average candidate will not be selected. But in a substandard pool, the average candidate may appear to be highly qualified.

  • “Similar to Me”. The “similar to me” effect occurs when the interviewer identifies with the candidate on a personal level, rather than evaluates the candidate on job-related criteria. For Example: The candidate attended the same university as the interviewer.

  • Cultural Noise. This occurs when the candidate’s responses are not factually based, but are socially acceptable answers. Basically, the applicant tells the interviewer what they think the interviewer would like to hear or will help secure the job.

4. Lead Out With An Offer Letter

A job offer letter allows you to itemize the facts and conditions of the offer, outline the job's responsibilities and highlight relevant details about the company.

In the event the candidate requests to negotiate issues like salary or vacation, or if they want to quit or you need to fire them, the job offer letter serves as the critical reference point.

The offer letter will protect you from willful and "sour" employees.

There are many ways to write them. Here's a simple example you can download.

Final Thoughts

The general guideline is to just be prepared - use the job description to script questions that are job related. Keep it professional.

You can find out more about protected classes by looking up your state laws on "unlawful discrimination".

If you have questions consult an HR professional; and if you are a Teamworks Group customer you can reach out to us anytime for hiring advice.


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