Like most employment lawyers, I pay a lot of attention to termination decisions. Hiring decisions, however, are every bit as important and I resolve in the New Year to talk about them more. Let’s see if I do better with this resolution than the ones involving exercise, rye whiskey, and bacon.
To get things started, let’s talk about the hiring practices of Operation Smile — a nonprofit that provides kids all over the world with surgery to correct cleft palates and other facial deformities. As reported today in Gawker (and brought to my attention by the ever-vigilant Tyreen Torner), some of the 20 applicants for an entry level position with Operation Smile were miffed about being subjected to a day-long interview process that culminated with their being told to plan a menu, buy groceries, and prepare dinner for the founder, his family, and employees of the organization.
I recognize that just asking questions isn’t always sufficient to identify the best qualified candidate. But these are job applicants, not slaves. If you’re going to make them do something that benefits you, that time could easily be considered hours worked (so you’d have to pay them). Also, if someone sues saying that the hiring decision was biased, are you really going to defend by arguing that they couldn’t work for your facial deformity charity because their vinaigrette was too oily?
Operation Smile responded to the criticism by saying that “an exercise such as planning and delivering a fun, social activity, including dinner, to a group helps identify the applicant’s strengths and/or weaknesses in communicating, problem-solving skills and teamwork.” But you could say that about any group activity. Having them defuse live explosives would also test their skills in communication, problem solving, and teamwork. That doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for the interview process.
I admire creative approaches to hiring. Requiring applicants to do something that benefits you and has little connection to their actual work, however, is a bad idea.