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Stick to objective standards to avoid needless litigation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

If your organization is like most, you want to promote from within to build morale and reward hard work. How you handle those promotions can spell the difference between a harmonious and productive workplace and a discordant one, rife with jealousy and resentment.

The keys to a good internal promotion program are clear and objective promotion standards. You don’t want disappointed employees complaining about favoritism or its evil twin, discrimination. Here are some tips for effective promotions:

  • Provide employees with job descriptions, including expected education, training and experience levels.
  • Post all openings and let employees know where to look for promotion opportunities.
  • Consider a “blind” initial promotion application, where employees list their qualifications but don’t provide their names or other identifiable information.
  • If you use a test, make sure it is a valid one that measures the skills and knowledge required for the open position. Also, check your results to make sure the test doesn’t have an adverse impact on a protected group (e.g., race, national origin) and that you can justify its use with a solid business reason.

Recent case: Patricia West, who is black, worked as a corrections officer for Hudson County, N.J. She and several co-workers sued when they were deemed ineligible for promotions because they scored poorly on a test all applicants were required to take. They charged sex and race discrimination.

When the trial court dismissed the women’s case, the others let the matter go. West, however, appealed and acted as her own attorney. She told the court she thought the test was unfair, but didn’t have any experts who could testify.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals looked at the requirements for promotion, which included several years of experience and a passing score on the test. West was ranked 56th the first time she took the test and didn’t even pass it the second time. Other employees who did better on the test were promoted as openings became available. The court tossed out the case. (West, et al., v. Hudson County Correctional Center, No. 06-2523, 3rd Cir., 2007)  

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