Why make it harder to recruit? (Editor’s Notes)

Forget the gimmicks like cash incentives for firms hiring older workers or screening out applicants using body mass index
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/22/2012

Finding talent is tough. That axiom holds true regardless of the industry or geographic location. That’s not to say employers won’t get flooded with resumés for every job opening — they will — but recruiters have to kiss plenty of frogs before (and if) they find royalty.

The cover of this issue contains an interesting contrast in hiring practices. On the one hand, we detail an initiative by the Australian government to pay employers to hire older workers. On the other, we examine a Texas hospital’s decision not to hire people with a body mass index (BMI) over 35.

One of those initiatives has a decent chance at success — and here’s a hint at which one: While you shouldn’t mess with Texas, don’t bet on it either.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need to offer incentives to hire older workers. Concerns were raised in the article — by Susan Eng, vice-president of advocacy at CARP, a Canadian advocacy group for older workers — that paying employers $1,000 to hire older workers suggests they’re flawed, thereby adding to the stereotype hiring them is somehow a sacrifice for an employer.

It’s a tough point to argue but employers fall into two camps on this front. If they “get it,” then the incentive is essentially meaningless — they already know all the great benefits of hiring older workers. If they’re reluctant, then perhaps the cash will convince them to hire older workers who will, in turn, smash any stereotypes they hold.

Turning our attention to Texas, the idea of screening applicants based solely on BMI is, to put it mildly, flawed. But it’s naive to think a person’s physical characteristics don’t play a role in hiring. Last year, I wrote about some restaurants that used a secret code on applications to rate the attractiveness of wait staff candidates and a retailer that asked for full-length photos of applicants.

But it’s even more naive to think physical characteristics count for much when it comes to job performance. Height and weight could play legitimate roles in determining a person’s ability to do a job, but the bar for establishing a bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR) — a phrase most HR professionals are well-versed in — has been set very high.

In the landmark Meiorin ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada set out a three-part test to establish a BFOR — it has to be adopted for a purpose rationally connected to job performance; it has to be adopted in an honest and good-faith belief it was necessary for the job; and it has to be reasonably necessary to accomplish the job.

The Texas hospital’s policy wouldn’t pass muster. BMI is a flawed measure. It doesn’t account for body fat, strength or conditioning. It’s a pure mathematical equation based on height and weight, and nothing else.

It’s hard enough to recruit and retain the best workers. Why throw up an unjustifiable, potentially discriminatory hurdle to make it even tougher? Just hire the best candidate — period.

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