Please welcome Ami Givertz to the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. Amitai Givertz has over 25 years experience in business with the majority of that time spent in the talent management space where he has held a number of leadership positions. Through his unique brand “disruption,” Ami has helped numerous organizations to innovate and develop their organizations. Full Bio…
Some would argue that America has come a long way since people could be denied employment based solely on the color of their skin, their sexual preference, physical ability, religion or other “protected” classes. That may be of little comfort to those who experience workplace discrimination on a daily basis, otherwise qualified workers who are stigmatized for their lifestyle choices, unfortunate circumstances, medical conditions and so on – the “unprotected classes.”
Advocating for their real or perceived rights, many unprotected classes are finding a voice to many employers’ chagrin. But to avoid dealing with the underlying issues and implementing necessary but difficult change, the conversation is recast as a defensive strategy. The most vocal disenfranchised are applied with new labels: the attention-grabbing, the insecure, the victimized, the disgruntled, and the politically-motivated. Anything but a “human resource.”
At its primal core, the categorization of certain classes of worker as “protected” has less to do with legal framing than it does the type of social stereotyping designed to identify “outsiders” as just that, outsiders. People who are tattooed, scarred, pierced and otherwise self-mutilated experience discrimination as widespread as the haplessly disenfranchised. Decidedly an unprotected class under the law and with no common sense of injustice, the pierced and tattooed are likely to continue suffering for their art, at least until such time as issues of supply and demand converge with a new set of norms – as so it has been traditionally for homeless, the morbidly obese, rehabilitated drug-user and now the growing number of unprotected classes who represent an increasing percentage of marginalized American workers.
While it follows that inclusive hiring practices, whether mandated or not, are designed to counter the exclusion of those who historically “don’t fit”, there is little evidence to show that employers feel they should be making similar accommodations for modern-day social outcasts.
Institutional Responses to the “Unprotected Classes”
A case in point: According to The Society of Human Resources [SHRM], 60 percent of employers rely on credit-checking to qualify hires in or out of the running for employment. However, in the wake of an economic meltdown, many people find themselves broke. Unable to pay bills, once unblemished records now show credit ruined by lengthy unemployment, late payments, closed accounts, liens, foreclosures and repossessions. This alone can be a deciding factor in employment decision-making.
Systematic discrimination that excludes a worker based on their economic circumstances, the obvious exceptions accounted for, is madness. One imagines someone desperate for a job would be more likely to do everything to keep it, no?
In addition, The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners [ACFE] recently produced a report suggesting that the recent recession, and its subsequent impact on staffing levels, actually leaves employers at greater risk of theft and embezzlement as a result. One would think that might counterbalance the fear that desperate people do desperate things, implied in checking credit as a condition of employment.
Not ones to miss the opportunity to recast the conversation, some employers opposed to the passage of H.R. 3149: The Equal Employment for All Act which seeks to restrict the practice of pre-employment credit checking, interpret the report differently. For example, in a letter to Members of the House Financial Services Committee [PDF] they cite the same sources to argue the case for keeping broke workers broken. In essence their position is people who have fallen on economic hard times cannot be trusted.
Protecting the Unprotected?
Countering worker marginalization should be a part of every employers’ thinking if they are sincere in their boasts of inclusive hiring, workforce diversity, “employer of choice” status, and good corporate citizenship. Unless perhaps that is all it is – boastful.
So, as a starting point, ask yourself:
- Are “fairness” and “equality” overrated in employment decision making?
- To what extent do you, corporately or personally, discriminate against otherwise capable workers based on convention or “traditional values?” Whether sanctioned or not, how do you justify that?
- If you could add one group of people to the list of “protected classes” which group would it be and why?
- Under what circumstances would you bend the rules to employ a person that would otherwise be denied employment based on their personal preferences or circumstance?
- To what extent should HR leaders be change-agents, for both their employers and society-at-large?
- Will America ever have a tattooed President?
Our society fails on so many levels to anticipate workforce needs that allowing sanctioned, institutional prejudice to compound the problem should be an anathema to any right-minded HR leader. Affecting change is never easy though. It often takes more time than most HR leaders have tenure. And the truth is, sometimes it is more politic to practice the double standards embodied in “pragmatism” and “expediency” than champion change. After all, being an agitator carries a stigma all of its own.