Careless click lands HR staffer in hot water

Recruiters need more in-depth training

Colossal HR blunders are sometimes only a click away — an important lesson one junior recruiter at the Ontario cabinet office learned the hard way last month.

Aileen Siu, an acting team leader in office hiring, found herself in a media firestorm on July 21 after mistakenly forwarding an e-mail meant for a colleague back to the job applicant with one sentence: “This is the ghetto dude that I spoke to before.”

The job applicant who received that e-mail was Evon Reid, a University of Toronto honour student who had applied for a media analyst position at the cabinet office.

“Ghetto dude? It means I’m black. It’s very insulting. It’s still pretty shocking to me,” Reid told the Toronto Star.

Reid since received apologies from Siu’s manager, Craig Sumi, as well as Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, and reportedly landed an interview for the position.

While the 22-year-old said he is no longer talking to the media, he did say to Canadian HR Reporter: “I think that there may be something of importance in this for a human resources manager, but it would be most likely in the actions of the other side in response to this issue.”

It’s not clear if, or how, Siu is being disciplined (Sumi did not return phone calls from Canadian HR Reporter). However Sumi told the Star that Siu was an “unclassified, part-time employee… low level.”

“I wouldn’t let something like this go,” said Shari Angle, manager of HR at Adecco Canada, a recruitment and HR consulting firm based in Toronto. “But it really comes down to better education and making sure employees have the tools and skills necessary to do their job. It appears that (Siu) was forwarding this e-mail to a colleague and, if that’s the case, the colleague had an obligation to discourage this kind of behaviour too.”

Lynn Brown, managing director of Brown Consulting Group, an HR consulting, outsourcing and training firm in Toronto, said anyone working in HR should be knowledgeable in employment equity and the prohibited grounds of discrimination under human rights legislation. (They include, among others, race, religious beliefs, ancestry, age, place of origin, family status and marital status.)

“To me, it’s just mind-boggling that things like this are still happening. I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I still come across a lot of (employers) who show inherent biases,” said Brown.

When testing clients’ hiring savvy, Brown said many routinely indicate they would ask inappropriate questions, including: “How old are you?” and “Are you planning a family?”

“As HR professionals, we really represent the company we work for and we have an obligation to foster truly model behaviour,” said Brown.

Both Angle and Brown agreed applicant screening is a good job for junior HR staffers, with the caveat they be well trained.

“Recruiting really is a learned skill. It’s not something that can be done by everyone,” said Angle.

“First you need to understand the legislation and what can and can’t happen in an interview. Second, it’s also a skill in that it’s our job as recruiters to sell our organization to all prospective employees. We need to be professional and represent the organization at all points, including at the beginning and at the end when you decline to hire a candidate.”

Both HR experts commented on how most recruitment efforts are conducted electronically and how important it is to do so carefully as slip-ups are quite common. Adecco provides a 30-minute web-based training program in e-mail protocol for all employees.

“It’s really beneficial. It teaches people to look at a lot of different issues around e-mailing, including the lack of tone and sending sensitive information,” said Angle.

Recruiters need to realize no e-mail is private, said Angle. Other people may have access, such as server employees and whoever the recipient chooses to show. One of the mottos in Adecco’s e-mail training is, “If you don’t want it on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper, don’t send it.”

HR professionals should have guidelines in place for electronic communications and educate all staff in them, said Brown.

“Employees really need to be more diligent,” she said.

Lesley Young is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

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