Disparate Impact Affects All Employers

Sunday’s newspaper brought an article by columnist Thomas Sowell about the Justice Department’s repeated use of the term “disparate impact” in their report about the Ferguson, MO., police department.

But what does disparate impact mean to an HR professional or hiring manager? And why is it important?

Disparate impact is a major standard the EEOC uses when determining whether a company has discriminated against an individual, or individuals, in an employment situation. More importantly, consumers seem to have accepted disparate impact as positive proof of discrimination, even when there is no objective evidence to prove the claim.

Minority applicants hired in fewer numbers than white applicants? Must be disparate impact. Your workforce doesn’t have the same percentages of minority and female workers as in the surrounding labor market? Must be disparate impact. More minorities, women or older workers fired or laid off than Caucasians or those under 40? Disparate impact again.

The sad fact is that in today’s world perception too often becomes reality, so managers and leaders must carefully ensure that their human resources practices, policies and decisions can stand up to scrutiny by entities like the EEOC, and especially by your own employees and customers.

Use every possible resource to recruit qualified minorities for open jobs. Make your company one where minorities are comfortable, appreciated, and not singled out because of their race. Make sure you don’t use different performance standards for minorities and non-minorities, and that your recognition systems work for both groups.

If you are required to produce an annual Affirmative Action Plan, you will be forced to document your efforts to be inclusive and non-discriminatory in all your HR practices. But whether you’re required to complete this documentation or not, the only way to avoid the perception of disparate impact is to be proactive with your recruiting and hiring policies and procedures, and to make sure all employees are given opportunities for training and career progression.

Perhaps your most effective tool, however, is a supervisory or management training program that teaches participants how their actions can be perceived as having a disparate impact on employees, and how to change those actions in real world situations.

You can have all the right programs, policies, procedures and mission statements in the world, but if your leaders’ behavior is perceived as negative or discriminatory by minorities, women or older workers, you may very well be forced to prove there is no disparate impact on affected groups.

Don’t let that happen. Be proactive and take the actions now that will avoid problems in the future!

Do you have other suggestions for preventing customer and employee perceptions of disparate impact? I so, I’d love to hear them! Comment below, or go to my website at http://www.patkelleyauthor.net, and send me a comment from there. And thanks for your input!

About Pat Kelley, MS, SPHR

Pat Kelley, MS, SPHR, is the author of three non-fiction books, including the Second Edition of Hiring Right: A Business Blueprint for Lower Turnover and Higher Profits. She is a retired Human Resources Director with more than 40 years' experience. Certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources, she is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arkansas Society for Human Resource Management.
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