Employee Interview Pitfalls Nonprofits Should Avoid

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Managing nonprofits is a huge challenge. Many nonprofits rely on a mix of full-time, part-time, and volunteer staff to the work that would be reserved for full-time, trained employees at a for-profit firm. Although operating like this saves money, it can also expose the organization to risks. One such risk is in the interview process. People who are relatively new to the hiring process or who simply lack training in how it should be done may not know that a nonprofit is just as vulnerable to certain types of employment discrimination lawsuits as a for-profit business is.

Among other anti-discrimination laws, Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 is an important one to understand. Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against or harassing employees and potential employees on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. Sex discrimination is a topic that can be easily misunderstood. It captures not only bias against job candidates of a certain sex, but also bias based on pregnancy, childbirth, or childbirth-related conditions.

Other federal laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of age against candidates over the age of 40 (Age Discrimination in Employment Act), candidates with disabilities (Americans with Disabilities Act), citizenship status (Immigration Reform and Control Act), and more.

State and local laws often go further than federal laws, and need to be included in a nonprofit’s examination of the rules that apply to it. California state law follows federal law and also expands upon its categories of protected characteristics. For example, California employers cannot discriminate on the basis of AIDS/HIV status, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, or political affiliation, among other things.

Not every employer is subject to the full scope of these rules. For example, Title VII applies only to employers with 15 or more employees, while California applies most of its rules to employers with 5 or more employees. The sources of these rules vary, and some may have carve-outs for nonprofits or religious organizations.

Given the complexity of these rules, nonprofits are urged to consult with an attorney before beginning to interview potential candidates for positions. The Church Law Center of California provides legal advice to religious and secular nonprofits throughout California. We can be reached at (949) 689-0437 or through our contact page.

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