Most hiring decisions are predicated in some part on subjective criteria. Let’s take for example, “Attitude and communication skills” which are on the top the hiring criteria for Phil Gerbyshak at Slacker Manager’s based on his post 5 Must Have Skills. Undoubtedly these traits were assessed by one or more members of the Phil’s hiring team based on how the candidates presented themselves at the interview. This hiring approach is universally practiced by companies across the country and loathed by government enforcement agencies.

The EEOC and OFCCP have initiatives targeting an employer’s selection process. The EEOC announced its focus on employment testing and screening resulting in a fact sheet Employment Tests and Selection Procedures. Likewise, OFCCP has a program targeting Systemic Discrimination, which examines criteria used in the hiring process. Subjective criteria are scrutinized because of the fear that they will be manipulated for a discriminatory purpose.

Courts examining subjective hiring criteria have not outright prohibited their use, but have cautioned against their advancement because they are “easily fabricated”. Recently in Wingate v. Gage County School District, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an employer’s use of subjective criteria did not create an inference of age discrimination when objective criteria were also utilized to make the employment decision.

The legal analyses of subjective hiring criteria revolve around theories of disparate treatment or disparate impact. The measure of compliance has its origin in the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures, which define interview questions as means of selection criteria and set forth the parameters for compliance.

The legal compliance for disparate treatment focuses on the following:

  • Whether the subjective criteria are job related
  • How they are measured
  • Whether the criteria are uniformly applied

According to Section 30 the OFCCP Compliance Manual, employers that utilize subjective hiring criteria will be evaluated for disparate treatment based, in part, upon their use of “safeguards” in the hiring process:

Safeguards consist of efforts made by the contractor to limit the possibility of differential application of the selection criteria/processes. In other words, treating members of a minority group or women differently than others in the application/evaluation of the criteria/processes. An example of a uniformly applied subjective process with safeguards could be an interview where all persons who pass the required test are interviewed regardless of minority or sex status; all interviewers are professionally trained in interviewing; all persons interviewed are asked the same questions; responses are documented; and answers are all evaluated in the same manner.

The legal compliance hurdles for disparate impact have a slightly different focus. The EEOC describes this process as follows:

  • If the selection procedure has a disparate impact based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, can the employer show that the selection procedure is job-related and consistent with business necessity? An employer can meet this standard by showing that it is necessary to the safe and efficient performance of the job. The challenged policy or practice should therefore be associated with the skills needed to perform the job successfully. In contrast to a general measurement of applicants’ or employees’ skills, the challenged policy or practice must evaluate an individual’s skills as related to the particular job in question.
  • f the employer shows that the selection procedure is job-related and consistent with business necessity, can the person challenging the selection procedure demonstrate that there is a less discriminatory alternative available? For example, is another test available that would be equally effective in predicting job performance but would not disproportionately exclude the protected group?

Employers who want to assess attitude and communication skills should consider the following additions to their hiring procedures:

  • Make attitude and communication skills an express criteria in job descriptions and summaries of minimum job requirements
  • Describe its job relatedness and business justification
  • Assess whether the criteria is creating an adverse impact
  • Implement “safeguards” in the hiring process describe in OFCCP Guidance