One of the most important HR functions is monitoring whether your organization is unwittingly discriminating when hiring, firing or promoting. To do that, you obviously have to know who belongs to what protected classification.
At the same time, you don’t necessarily want the supervisors and managers who make employment decisions to have that information at their fingertips. An applicant or employee could later argue that the decisions were tainted by bias.
Advice: Segregate the information so it remains confidential. That can be as simple as including the information in a database with other information that can access, but protecting the sensitive information with a password.
Recent case: Albert Hinds, who is over age 40, worked at Sprint for a decade before a RIF cut his job.
Hinds had a long history of complaining to HR and sending work problems up the chain of command for senior managers to deal with. Co-workers knew him as competent but hard to work with. Since he lost his job shortly after complaining of age discrimination to HR and senior managers, he assumed he had been fired in retaliation.
Hinds sued. Then he discovered that the managers who made the decision to include him in the RIF had used a spreadsheet provided by HR that included hidden cells of information about race, age, disability and other protected characteristics. He said that was evidence his supervisors had used age as a factor in deciding whom to lay off.
But Sprint pointed out that the information was password protected and no managers who made the RIF decisions had the password.
The court sided with Sprint. It determined that the company used the information after the fact to find out if there was any inadvertent discrimination. The court reasoned that punishing Sprint for setting up a mechanism to identify possible discrimination would be contrary to what Congress intended when it passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). After all, the ADEA is meant to eliminate discrimination, and courts shouldn’t do anything to discourage employers from meeting that goal. (Hinds v. Sprint, No. 07-3027, 10th Cir., 2008)
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