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The New HR Charter: Part 8 – Politically correct yes – but is HR more effective?

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Paul Kearns

It is some years since I last had an operational HR role and managed an HR team but very recently I found myself back in just such a position, nominally and temporarily, while I was working for one of my HR clients. I have to admit that the experience opened my eyes to the new world of HR administration, which has become an absolute legal minefield in comparison to my formative HR experiences.


Whilst I can fully understand how legislation and standards of public scrutiny have changed significantly during this time I was, nevertheless, left with the distinct impression that some of these ‘mines’ had actually been laid by HR people themselves.

So I am taking this opportunity to see if I can safely defuse some of them and one incident in particular illustrates my point perfectly.

A provisional offer had been made, subject to satisfactory references, to the sole applicant for a very sensitive managerial position that had been particularly difficult to fill.

Unfortunately, the only reference received was a very poor one and I was asked for my opinion as to whether the job offer should be withdrawn; bearing in mind they were desperate to recruit.

Obviously references are sought for a purpose and HR professionals ignore them at their peril. However, experienced HR people also know only too well that one swallow does not make a summer. Admittedly, at first glance, the reference was indeed damning but I asked to see the full application just to try and build a complete picture.

This is where I stood on the first mine. The first piece of information I sought from the application form was the applicant’s date of birth, only to be informed that the application did not ask for this – oh how HR has changed!

Of course, the ‘justification’ for removing this crucial piece of information was a fear of encouraging age (and associated) discrimination. However, I said this application could not be fully and professionally analysed without this key piece of information. For a start, how do you detect where the applicant’s employment history should begin?

Fortunately the applicant had included her age on an attached CV (which seems to make the age data restriction a nonsense) and this revealed that there was at least a seven year period not covered on the application. My opinion was that without getting this information it would be impossible to assess the applicant’s complete employment record.

So have dates of birth disappeared off application forms for reasons of political correctness and at the expense of improving HR professionalism and effectiveness? I have to admit my ignorance on the subject of age discrimination, simply because I have never seen any proof that this phenomenon exists.

The HR Charter demands evidence – so has anyone any evidence that removing vital information, such as date of birth, has made the lot of applicants less discriminatory? More importantly, has HR moved forwards or backwards when it comes to our crucial role in selection and recruitment?

Have your say – simply click on ‘add comments’ below.

New HR Charter series
You can also read all the debates around the New HR Charter and add your own comments by clicking on the links below.

The New HR Charter – Introduction

The New HR Charter Part 1 – Does HR have a reputation problem?

The New HR Charter Part 2 – What does best practice mean in HR?

The New HR Charter: Part 3 – Do competencies and 360 work?

The New HR Charter: Part 4 – The opposite of best practice?

The New HR Charter: Part 5 – HR Causality – which way does the arrow point?

The New HR Charter: Part 6 – Employer of choice?

The New HR Charter: Part 7 – HR professionals: GP’s, consultants, homeopaths or quacks

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Annie Hayes

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