The TV Land show Younger is a great crash course on worst practices in employee hiring and on-boarding. In this comedy-drama, the protagonist Liza Miller (played by Sutton Foster), is a 40-year-old mother who decides to re-enter the workforce following her divorce. In her 40s and interviewing for jobs for the first time in years, Liza faces many challenges that she attributes to age discrimination in tandem with her employment history gap. Liza’s good friend Maggie (Debi Mazar) suggests Liza lie on her employment applications and tell prospective employers that she is 26, and in the initial stages of her career. After a makeover and a crash course in millennial culture, Liza finds herself employed at a publishing house, figuring out social media marketing on the fly, and dating a 26 year old tattoo artist. The show follows Liza’s career and often ends in Liza finding herself in compromising situations at work following her, her co-workers, and her employer’s lack of regard for basic tenants of U.S. employment law. For employers in the real world, here are some considerations for employee hiring and the on-boarding process that will help you avoid the employment snafus depicted in Younger.
1. Train interviewees on proper interview questions before an interview takes place.
Under federal law, it violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to discriminate against anyone at least 40 years of age or older in regards to hiring, promotions, wages, and termination of employment and layoffs. When Liza is interviewing for a job and her interviewer, a comparatively young woman, asks her about her employment gap, Liza explains that she was a stay at home mom, but was now ready to re-enter the workforce where she left off. After a patronizing explanation of the changes in employment culture and technology since Liza left the workforce, the interviewer starts to say that Liza is not going to be hired because she is too “o….o….orange.” It was clear in the delivery that the interviewer was going to say “old,” but realized her mistake mid-sentence and changed to another word that started with “o,”–“orange.” On its face, such an exchange violates U.S. law, and could be viewed as discrimination. To prevent such exchanges, employers should ensure that interviewers are trained and versed in U.S. employment discrimination laws before conducting interviews for new hires. Further, employers should ensure that individuals with appropriate experience are conducting interviews, and follow appropriate interviewing guidelines that are set in advance by the employer. Interviewers should understand appropriate questions to ask, and what types of questions might be viewed as indirect, but still unlawful discrimination. While Liza had no obligation to go into detail about her age and family situation, the line of questioning and the statement of the interviewer likely crossed the line into discrimination territory.
2. Check the candidate’s credentials, and confirm that the information they provide in their application is accurate.
Liza lies on her employment applications, and indicates that she is 26 as opposed to 40, and fudges her resume and education history to match. Employers will usually require that a prospective employee sign off and verify the information included in their job application. That employer will also independently confirm that the information included by the employee in their application is correct. This often includes calling previous employers to verify job title, and dates of employment, and to confirm credentials. As a special tip for employers based in Philadelphia, for now, it is safest to avoid asking questions regarding a prospective employee’s salary history as there is a pending lawsuit involving the Wage Equity Law.
While Liza’s lie was a “white” lie, intended to overcome the discrimination that she was experiencing during the interview process, lies as to education and job credentials could have serious consequences for an employer down the road. As recent news stories have shown, with the rise of the Internet, gone are the days where misstating a credential will go undetected or won’t dramatically back fire in a public way. This is especially true if an employer does not take steps to independently verify information provided to them by a job candidate. This due diligence should also apply to candidates that are put forward by a third party staffing agency – an employer should verify with the third party just what credential checks, if any, have been done, and plan to cover the gaps. For some professions, employers will even require background checks, and keep records of the check on file, once they have decided that they will extend a formal offer to a job candidate. That said, employers should be careful when making a background check part of their standard hiring practice. There has been a lot of movement on the state, local, and federal level regarding the appropriateness and permissibility of background checks, along with “ban the box” initiatives, and it is easy to trip up in this evolving area of the law.
3. Bad on-boarding and employee orientation practices often lead to employee-employer conflict
On Liza’s first day at work she jumps right into the grind – she has no onscreen orientation, no training, and her immediate supervisor does not even know (or pretends she does not know) Liza’s name. Liza’s first task, to start a Twitter account, involves her secretly using the Internet to research how to begin. While motivated self-starters offer lots of value to a company, all new employees need at least a basic tutorial on how to use, and safeguard, employer information systems. They should receive training on employer policies related to workplace safety, employee conduct, employee oversight and chain of command as well as time and record keeping. In the digital age, this employee on-boarding should also include a basic training on the employer’s social media policy, especially if the employee, like Liza, will be using social media as part of her job.
When Liza researches how to start the Twitter account, it is clear she is not thinking about who owns the content she will prepare for the Twitter account, whether there are any acceptable use guidelines for using social media, or whether she may, or must use her employer’s computer systems or devices as opposed to her own personal device to post on social media for her employer. There was no discussion of whether she must include disclosure tags on sponsored posts, or the appropriate use of the intellectual property of others. Yikes. Often, employers will have a robust employee handbook that covers these topics, but the on-boarding process is the critical moment where the employer can communicate their expectations verbally, and an employee can ask any relevant questions.
While Liza’s employer is a fictitious publishing house depicted on television, all employers should stay on the right side of the law to avoid claims of unlawful employment discrimination. Accordingly, employers should have written policies, periodic trainings, and guidelines in place on how to interview a prospective job candidate. Employers should also train their interviewers appropriately before they are allowed to conduct interviews. Employers should trust but verify the information contained in a job application before extending an offer of employment to an otherwise promising job candidate, and should also appropriately train and on-board new hires before they start.