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5 Ways to Make Your Company's Hiring Process More Fair Allegations from a special needs applicant in Pennsylvania illustrate ongoing concerns about job discrimination.

By Heather R. Huhman Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Discrimination in the workplace is a hot topic. It is still prevalent and can be very costly to a company. What's more, the consequences of discrimination on the job can include fines and litigation costs, not to mention bad publicity.

Related: When Company Culture Becomes Discrimination

The answer to avoiding discrimination in the workplace? Hiring. Your goal should be to create a hiring process where you're focused on being non-discriminatory, and apply those practices to the workplace.

Look at the recent ordeal that took place at Dorney Park, an amusement park in Pennsylvania. The company introduced a new interview process that resulted in the termination of a man named Chris Emery. He was part of a five-person interview group in which he was asked to read flashcards and help build a Lego train.

Emery, a man with special needs, had worked at the park for 12 years. But he couldn't pass the new interview process for the 2016 season. And that set in motion critics' allegations that the amusement park did not make accommodations for its special needs employees.

Not only that: There was the publicity. The story went viral, resulting in heavy criticism of Dorney Park. The negative backlash and cost to the company could have been easily avoided had the hiring process not discriminated against a group of applicants, in this case those who are disabled or have special needs.

To avoid getting caught in a similar ordeal, here are five strategies to pursue during the hiring process to help you eliminate unlawful discrimination from your company:

1. Embrace diversity from the get-go.

Diversity is important in the workplace because it builds a company with a unique dynamic and a strong ability to adapt. It can also result in creative solutions for problems, and in increased productivity.

Your mindset from the beginning of the hiring process should be simple -- find the best candidate for the job. Race, gender, age and the like should not affect the decision-making process. And yet these issues still crop up: Hiring discrimination still occurs today.

According to a study by Rutgers and Syracuse universities, fewer than 5 percent of applicants studied, who said they'd mentioned disabilities in their applications, were contacted by employers. Compare that with the 6.6 percent of nondisabled applicants in the study who received expressions of interest. Even the more experienced applicants with disabilities were 34 percent less likely to get responses than their nondisabled counterparts.

Simply put, an open position should be filled by any applicant who meets the requirements and possesses the right skills to succeed. Begin the hiring process by identifying the skills needed to get the job done, and outline them in the posting for the position. Then ensure that the duties and responsibilities are clearly stated throughout all platforms, and be clear about them during the actual interview.

It's important to be direct, in this way, about your expectations, at the early stages. This helps ensure that candidates are able to assess their own abilities to apply for, and pursue, a job that fits their skill set. The hiring manager is then likely to find it easier to assure the best fit. Above all, avoid using language that would suggest any applicant preference, and highlight the fact that your company is an "equal opportunity employer."

2. Create a values-based process.

A simple way to avoid discrimination during the hiring process is to take a values-based approach to hiring. Once a company establishes values, the hiring manager can make a decision based on those values. The first step toward doing this is to translate values into behaviors.

Look closely at the company's core values and define them specifically. For example, what does a word like "integrity" mean to the company? If it means honesty, then write that into an action for the position, like "provide customers with a clear understanding of budgeting and time allotment." Hiring based on values -- and the behaviors that follow those values -- can help combat discrimination during the hiring process.

Related: Protect Yourself When Terminating Employees

3. Level the playing field.

Chris Emery's mother complained that the interview process Dorney Park used discriminated against special needs applicants because, she said, no one helped her son understand the new interview process, and what was expected of him.

This allegation, if true, raises important questions about the hiring process. What needs to be altered? Is there a way to explain expectations in a more effective manner? How can the company convey the same basic information to each candidate?

To avoid the appearance of discrimination, the interviewer should ask each candidate the same set of questions. While the follow-up question may differ based on the candidate's response, the list for each person should be the same. Questions should be written to assess the applicant's ability in general areas, like interpersonal and communication skills. This is a fair method for identifying whether the applicant is capable of performing the general skills that the position may require.

Involving other employees or managers on a panel interview is another good strategy. It not only secures multiple, possibly different, opinions on each applicant, but also makes interviewers accountable for fair practices. Ultimately, providing a consistent interview experience is an effective way to avoid discrimination and gather information from each candidate in an unbiased way.

4. Identify disqualification reasons.

In most cases, employers fail to provide information to candidates who do not receive job offers. According to a 2015 CareerBuilder study of more than 5,000 U.S. job candidates, only 27 percent of candidates surveyed said that an employer they'd contacted had given them an explanation of why they didn't get the job.

Companies should rethink this inaction: If a company identifies and captures the reasons why it did not hire a particular candidate, it can better ensure that its hiring process is EEOC-compliant.

If the hiring manager then informs the candidates of the reason, both parties can be assured that race, gender, age, disabilities and the like did not play a role in the decision.

5. Continue to review and improve the process.

As with all business practices, there is never a "set it and forget it" method, especially with a hiring process. The workplace is in a constant state of change, and the hiring process should reflect that.

It's important to constantly review the hiring process and consistently collect candidate feedback. So, systemize your own feedback process by using surveys and questionnaires to measure the candidate's experience. Use this information to write policy and improve the overall experience in order to avoid discrimination and unethical behavior and make your business truly an "equal opportunity" employer.

What do you think? What are some other ways employers can support a non-discriminatory hiring process? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Related: Accommodating an Employee's Religion Just Got Even More Complicated

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

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