Back to the Jul-Aug 2022 issue

Avoiding Legal Pitfalls When Recruiting for Diversity

By Laura Kushner

Two people during an interviewThe job market right now is very favorable, but only for job seekers, not employers. One way to increase candidate pools is to reach out to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities, veterans, immigrants, and people with disabilities, as well as people of different religions, ages, genders, economic status, or sexual orientations.

Employers cannot discriminate in their employment selection process, but they can seek to be welcoming of all applicants and take proactive measures to increase diversity in the candidate pool. They can also take steps to eliminate any bias from the hiring process to help ensure candidates are evaluated only on their qualifications.

Eliminating bias from hiring

For example, some employers use “blind resumes,” eliminating the name of the candidate (and sometimes other identifying information like names of past employers), so hiring managers can focus on the candidate’s qualifications in deciding who will get an interview. This is one of the easiest ways to help eliminate bias from an interview process.

Employers should also review what is being asked of job candidates to ensure they are not directly or indirectly requesting protected information. Common mistakes include asking for:

  • Information about criminal convictions and arrests.
  • Information that reveals marital or family status (maiden name, child care commitments, etc.).
  • Information that reveals age (date of birth, dates of employment, and dates of graduations).

All these factors may inadvertently result in implicit bias, and it is specifically prohibited by law to ask for some of this information.

Widening the candidate pool

As noted above, widening the candidate pool is a strategy used by employers seeking a more diverse workforce. But can an employer offer internships or other job opportunities to certain groups without offering them to everyone?

The short answer is employers cannot discriminate against any group on the basis of race or other protected category, so the city cannot specify that internships are only for people of a particular protected category. In addition, there are some things a private company can do that a city cannot. However, any employer can publicize openings to increase diverse candidates.

Advertising with historically Black colleges and universities is one good way to start on this type of effort. Another is to advertise jobs on websites like,, Black Career Women’s Network, Hispanic/ Latino Professionals Association, Professional Diversity Network, and Diversity Job Board. Posting on these websites can be expensive, but so is the cost of having to repost a job due to insufficient numbers of candidates or paying overtime to existing employees to cover vacancies.

Making sure your minimum job requirements truly reflect the minimum qualifications needed to perform the job will also likely increase the candidate pool in general and in terms of diversity. For example,work experience can often substitute for educational requirements and sometimes can be more valuable than a college degree. Allowing this type of substitution may avoid excluding people who do not have a college degree but can perform the job duties successfully.

Be careful giving extra points

What if your city wants to recruit more BIPOC candidates by giving extra points to such individuals when evaluating their employment application, as is done for veterans? This approach is likely to be viewed by the courts or enforcement agencies as discriminatory.

However, if it makes sense given the job duties of the position for which you are recruiting, you can give points for speaking a second language or for experience working with BIPOC communities. For example, a police officer candidate who would routinely interact with residents who speak Spanish or Hmong could receive points for speaking one of these languages.

Another step the city can take is to craft a statement that explains why you are seeking to create a diverse workforce, how it aligns with your city’s values and mission, and what the city is doing to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s important the statement be sincere and reflect the city’s priorities to be effective.

Learn more about employment applications from chapter 2 of the League of Minnesota Cities HR Reference Manual, available at And get more ideas on employee recruitment and retention from the League’s City Career Advantage at

Laura Kushner is human resources director with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1203.