A Plea for Common Sense When Screening Employees

Many Human Resource Departments are so busy guarding their houses against discriminatory hiring and unlawful firing that the competition is just walking in and raiding their chicken coop of talent.

screening employees Now I’m certainly not advocating a disregard for employment laws but these laws and common sense seem to be growing diametrically opposed to improving productivity and profitability in today’s workplaces.

For example, a manufacturer was recently fined over $600,000 for discriminating against minorities.  Several years ago this company implemented a requirement that all new hires must have a high school degree or equivalency certificate.  Sounds like a good thing, right?

Wrong! By requiring a high school education as a condition of employment, a disproportionate number of minorities were disqualified. Why? Because Blacks and Hispanics have a higher dropout rate than Whites. Many of the jobs required minimum  reading levels to follow the instructions and read the blueprints and schematics. In order to find people who could read, the company discriminated based on skills, but apparently that wasn’t good enough for EEOC. So this company was fined.

What happens now is the company lowered their hiring standard and the next round of new hires didn’t complete high school and can’t read. If they can’t read, they likely will make more mistakes and have more accidents. If they make mistakes, it costs the company money, lots of money in re-makes and lost orders. If they have more accidents, they likely will be fined by OSHA for safety violations, not counting the lost work-time and increased insurances, but at least they won’t get fined for discrimination.

While I’m not encouraging or supporting discrimination based on color, race, religion, gender, or sexual preferences, companies must be able to hire qualified workers.  Otherwise, you end up in situations like this.  

When the government was attempting to hire 33,000 airport screeners a few years ago, they determined that English proficiency and a good customer service attitude were required as conditions of employment. Just four months short of their deadline to fill all the vacancies, less than 6,000 have been hired. Why?

Nearly half of all the candidates didn’t show up for the English and Customer Service Skills testing. And for the half that showed? Only half passed the tests! 

In an attempt to hire more screeners faster and to avoid challenges of discrimination, the agency in charge lowered the standards. English proficiency and good service attitude was deemed to not be a required skill to guard our airports and keep our skies safe from domestic and foreign terrorists.

If English proficiency and customer service aren’t required, what will be? You might think that an ability to recognize shapes would be a good test. These screeners are looking for weapons on monitors and in handbags. Shapes recognition seems to be a skill that is very job specific and valid for this job. Wrong again! The shapes skills test was dismissed as “potentially discriminatory and to be avoided”. The result – an airport screener was fired this week for missing the .357 magnum a passenger carried on a plane.  While we protect the right of every individual to be employed regardless of their ability to perform, hundreds of people are put at risk. So much for common sense.

And here’s the icing on the cake. Candidates applying to become U.S. Marshals, the elite unit designated to fly undercover and protect us in the event of an attack or hijacking, no longer had to pass the marksmanship test. Why? Too many candidates were failing.

Human resource professionals and senior managers must come to their senses. When was the last time you heard about a profitable company closing their doors because they hired the best people? Maybe they received a fine or two for rejecting an unqualified but protected candidate but rarely if ever are they forced out of business. On the other hand, how many businesses have closed their doors due to a lack of sales or turnover even though they had a squeaky, clean employment record with the government? The numbers speak for themselves – just open the business section of any newspaper on any given day.

Sometimes selecting the most competent and motivated employee may run afoul of all the paradoxical and even hypocritical regulations governing how to hire, promote and fire. But organizations who want to employ the most competent and motivated employees do what it takes to ensure that their organizations remain productive, profitable and safe – even when it means using a little common sense.


Ira S Wolfe