Discrimination is a serious concern for employers, costing thousands - or even millions - of dollars, depending on income loss, emotional distress, legal fees and fines. What many organizations may not realize is that even the most well-meaning companies can accidentally discriminate. Known as "unintentional" or "systemic" discrimination, this occurs when a position's requirements do not change to reflect the needs of certain protected groups - women, people with disabilities, religious individuals, LGBT, Aboriginals and ethnic minorities.
While this type of accidental prejudice is not as overt, it prevents qualified people from obtaining meaningful employment. Not only does this put job-seekers at a disadvantage, but employers also often miss opportunities to hire excellent workers. Understanding what to look for is critical in order to prevent the aforementioned problems.
There is a very fine line between systemic discrimination and "bona fide occupational requirements," which are legitimate restrictions based on the nature of the work involved. For example, individuals with impaired vision cannot expect equal opportunity for a job operating a motor vehicle. There is no way to modify the duties and guarantee safety.
Similarly, candidates must meet certain health requirements for eligibility to join the military. Epilepsy or heart conditions, for example, can disqualify applicants. These are bona fide occupational requirements, as they can endanger the soldier and his or her counterparts in a stressful combat situation. Although certain filtering is understandable to guarantee performance and safety, there are times when job requirements are pointless. For instance, many jobs expect applicants to own a vehicle or have a valid driver's license - even if the job involves no driving. This could simply be a habit or a misguided belief that workers with cars will be more punctual.
However, this makes it impossible for people who cannot legally drive, such as those who experience seizures or are physically disabled. In other words, having a driver's license is not a bona fide occupational requirement in this case, resulting in unintentional discrimination. Systemic discrimination is not limited to disability.
It can also apply to members of religious groups. A common issue for many orthodox Jews and some Christian groups is that they do not work from Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset. As a result, they may feel deterred from applying for jobs that "require" individuals to work weekends. There are always ways to circumvent scheduling issues with little to no effort. Age can also be inadvertently targeted by systemic discrimination. Many employers require applicants to be tested for proficiency in programs like Microsoft Word, Outlook and Excel. This is in fact frequently required at call centers and other jobs where computer use is common.
Ultimately, however, new hires may soon discover that the job does not involve any of the aforementioned software. Instead, these pre-screening tests are used merely to assess candidates' familiarity with computers. This can adversely affect older people, as computers were not a major - or even a minor - part of their careers in many cases. However, there is no reason why these candidates cannot learn the technical skills for the position.
Some unintentional discrimination can occur based on sex. Both men and women lose job opportunities due to the role in question. For example, men are rarely found in the administrative and childcare fields, as these jobs are considered "female dominated." As a result, recruiters may be surprised when they see male applicants, and even make the mistake of writing "she" in the job advertisement. The same can be said for women, who often dominate administrative and childcare fields, but are found to a lesser - albeit increasing - extent in specialized roles, such as doctors or lawyers.
Fortunately for most employers, unintentional discrimination can be easily pointed out and rectified by either a change in policy or some quick editing to a job advertisement. Most major companies now understand their responsibility to be an "equal opportunity" employer - an employer who will accommodate those with special requirements. Systemic discrimination is an issue of human rights and human dignity. That being said, all recruiters need to carefully evaluate job descriptions and expectations to ensure that their supposed bona fide occupational requirements are reasonable and necessary.