Employers in the U.S. are prohibited from discriminating in the hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits, and any other aspect of employment on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual preference, national origin, age, or disability.

As a Small Business Owner, You Are Directly Liable for Any Discriminatory Actions During Hiring Practices

Remember, your business is responsible for any discriminatory actions taken by managers or supervisors. You need to make sure that everyone on your management team understands discrimination law and abides by it. In addition to being bad for business, violation of this law subjects you to potential government action. The greatest risk you face, however, is from an employee or a job applicant filing a civil suit.

Don’t just quietly abide by the law. Make it obvious to the world that you are an equal opportunity employer. Certainly hire and definitely make an effort to promote women, racial minorities, people over 40, and the physically challenged. This will create a public image of your company as a progressive, forward-looking employer. It will demonstrate to those in protected groups that they can be hired by and get ahead within your firm. This reputation may also enable your company to defend itself against “false” discrimination suits brought by bitter or disgruntled employees or job applicants.

How to Make Discrimination Work in Your Favor

In fact, it is in your own self-interest to determine whether perhaps by chance there is a group of people facing quiet forms of discrimination in your industry. For example, let’s say you’re running a high-tech start-up, and you find that many competitors in your field shy away from hiring people over 50. Some high-tech firms hesitate to hire people over 25! As a result, if you aggressively try to recruit people from this demographic, you may be able to hire exceptional talent that is being overlooked.

Years ago, my grandfather was running a civil engineering firm and hired a retired chief city engineer from a mid-size Massachusetts city. In order to avoid jeopardizing his retirement benefits that would have been reduced if his post-retirement income were above a certain level, the engineer insisted that my grandfather pay him a lower wage than he would have otherwise earned.

Watch Out for Unintentional Discrimination

A lot of hiring managers, especially those with less experience, will unintentionally discriminate. They might be apt to hire people they “like,” and these hires may tend to be more similar and have more in common with the hiring manager. This can lead to a less diverse workforce.

Nondiscrimination in hiring isn’t just the law and a good thing to do. It is beneficial to have a diverse workforce. A diverse workforce can provide you with more opinions and perspectives, and thus lead to better judgments in providing products and services to our increasingly diverse world and its marketplaces.