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When it comes to employment lawsuits, HR is a lot like flying an airplane: The most risky parts of the trip are at the takeoff (hiring) and the landing (dismissal).

With hiring, you can limit the employment-law risks by following the legally safe steps and training supervisors to do the same.

Laws related to hiring

Congress has pieced together a patchwork of laws protecting workers and applicants from discrimination:

1. Best known is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and applicants based on their race, color, sex, religion or national origin.

2. Employers must also comply with the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which says employers can’t pay female employees less than male employees for equal work on jobs that require equal skill, effort and responsibility.

3. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.” You can’t deny a job or promotion merely because an employee is pregnant or had an abortion.

4. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibits you from refusing to hire applicants who are age 40 or older because of their age.

5. The ADA protects qualified disabled individuals from discrimination and mandates that employers take affirmative steps to accommodate them in the application process and in the workplace.

4 principles of hiring

To stay out of court, build your hiring process around these principles:

1. Create a job description that’s accurate, job-related, nondiscriminatory and up-to-date.

2. Advertise the opening in a way that complies with federal and state anti-discrimination laws. It should never favor workers based on age, race, gender, religion or disability status.

3. Conduct interviews in a way that accommodates applicants with disabilities and shows that you aren’t using the process to screen out qualified members of protected classes.

4. Use a selection and testing process that is blind to a candidate’s race, sex, age (if over 40), national origin and religion, and that offers reasonable accommodations to qualified disabled applicants.

3 levels of enforcement

The EEOC enforces most federal employment discrimination laws, while the U.S. Department of Labor administers most federal wage-and-hour laws.

Most states have their own departments of labor and equal employment commissions, as well as laws that parallel federal ones or offer even greater protection for workers. 

Plus, some cities have employment ordinances that prohibit discrimination on additional grounds, including protecting applicants in same-sex relationships.

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