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Ethical Misconducts and Legal Mistakes HR and Employers Make

There is no perfect organization. Every department has flaws, including human resources, who are supposedly responsible for balancing the interests of employees and employers. They must heed all the concerns of each member of an organization, but in doing so, they must ensure that they’re complying with federal, state, and local laws.

But even HR professionals can make mistakes. Some tolerate ethical misconduct, while others blatantly break the law. It’s wise to give them the benefit of the doubt, though, because some HR professionals are unaware that they’ve been carrying out illegal practices. Still, the law excuses no one, so business owners or HR directors must ensure that their teams stay compliant.

For example, if your company is already suffering a 100% employee turnover rate, then the problem lies in a faulty HR department. Maybe your wages are unjust, or you provide little to no benefits.

That said, here are the top legal mistakes HR and employers often make:

1. Discrimination

Some department heads ask HR to automatically weed out applicants of a certain race, gender, age, etc. For example, a marketing head looking for assistants may prefer white blonde females. As such, he or she may order the recruiter to screen out applicants immediately who don’t meet that category.

While some professions do have “standard” appearances, they’re never race-exclusive. Flight attendants, for instance, have a height and weight requirement, but no policy states that they should be a specific race or color. Thus, screening out job applicants solely for their appearance and gender is downright discriminatory, and therefore against the law.

Some HR personnel becomes conflicted when faced by a discriminating department head. When they assert that discrimination is unethical, department heads may threaten to leave their posts, going as far as getting their boss to back them up. In some cases, the department head’s boss may take their subordinate’s side and insist on the HR that should go along with the request. They may cite that the department head is an asset that the company cannot afford to lose.

But HR shouldn’t be swayed by these manipulative tactics. Instead, they should raise the issue to the CEO and board of directors. When things go as per the law, the two unethical employees may be fired.

2. Inaccurate Job Descriptions

Since no state nor federal law requires companies to put up job descriptions, HR may only settle for vague explanations about different posts. But detailed job descriptions are necessary for avoiding legal disputes and conflicts with employees.

Moreover, it helps in identifying the right person for the job. It also describes the legitimate minimum qualifications and helps in justifying an employee’s exempt status.

man talking to a female applicant

3. Confidentiality Trap

The HR is obligated to keep the employees’ confidence, but sometimes, this lands them in a dilemma, particularly when misconduct is reported.

For example, if a truck driver reports unethical treatment from their boss, which consists of insufficient wages, lack of safety concern, and poor fleet maintenance, the HR should immediately report this incident to the accountable department. However, confidentiality agreements may hold them back.

To avoid such a dilemma, HR personnel should be cautious in promising confidentiality. If the truck driver’s concern remains unaddressed after a long time, they may start to file a complaint to a truck driver attorney, costing the company legal obligations. That could’ve been avoided if the HR had assured that the truck driver would be protected by whistle-blower laws, and thus couldn’t lose their job for reporting the mistreatment they’re experiencing.

4. Asking Illegal Interview Questions

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) makes it illegal for HR to ask interview questions about race, color, age, creed, gender, national roots, disabilities, and genetic characteristics. We can relate this to the first HR mistake identified, discrimination. If an employer disqualifies an applicant simply because of the said characteristics, and not because of their intellectual ability or skills, they may face legal consequences.

To ensure that HR only asks the right questions, have them jot these illegal questions down:

  1. What is your religion?
  2. Are you pregnant?
  3. What is your political affiliation?
  4. What is your race, color, or ethnic background?
  5. What is your age?
  6. Do you have disabilities?
  7. Are you married?
  8. Are you planning to have children, or do you already have them?
  9. Are you in debt?
  10. Do you smoke or drink socially?

These questions may sound harmless, but they have nothing to do with an applicant’s qualifications; hence they’re nothing but invasive and inappropriate. Sadly, a third of employers don’t realize that they’ve been asking these illegal interview questions.

5. No Termination Policy and Procedures

If a company doesn’t have a termination policy and procedure, firing an employee becomes more challenging, and they’re putting themselves at risk of lawsuits. A terminated employee may claim that their dismissal was wrongful and was motivated by discrimination, retaliation, or anything alike.

An excellent way to avoid these mistakes is to hold training regularly. Having a fair HR director with a firm stand on compliance is crucial as well. Your organization may still be imperfect, but the fact that you’re strictly following the law says a lot about your values.

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