NEW YORK -- For managers learning the basics of employment law,
there are the usual methods. Reading. Taking notes.
At Tower Records, they do things a bit differently. Every two
weeks, the human resources staff at its headquarters in Sacramento,
Calif., dress up as game pieces and assemble on a giant game board
that covers a conference room floor. Groups of Tower store managers
then answer questions about a hiring situation.
A correct answer, and a staff member takes a step forward on the
board. A wrong one, and everyone in the room discusses the best
legal response. The more correct answers, the closer trainees get to
the final space, "team leader of the year."
"Even though it seems a little crazy with the Alice-in-Wonderland-
like proportions, it works," said Renee Gromacki, Tower's human
resource manager for employee relations.
Since the training programs began four years ago, she said, the
number of grievances filed companywide has decreased. Tower now
requires all managers and supervisors to play the legal-training
Tower's program illustrates companies' widening efforts to train
managers in the ways of hiring and dismissal. And that training is
likely to become even more important for employers.
Starting as early as this spring, the federal Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission plans to use undercover "testers" -- pairs of
job applicants who have equivalent qualifications but who differ in
characteristics like gender, race, disability or age -- to uncover
discrimination in hiring.
The decision, announced in December, marks the first time that the
commission is actively focusing on hiring, a field in which bias is
particularly hard to prove. Applicants often never know the reasons
for their rejection or who else may have applied for the job.
About 8 percent of the roughly 80,000 cases the commission
receives annually contend some form of hiring discrimination. In
contrast, 47 percent deal with discharges or complaints of bias and
retaliation after dismissals.
The commission will use two private groups -- the Fair Employment
Council of Greater Washington and the Legal Assistance Foundation of
Chicago -- to conduct the tests, which will focus initially on entry-
level jobs; results are expected by next winter.
Dianna Johnston, the commission's liaison to the program, said the
agency was more interested in learning about how discrimination
occurs rather than about which companies discriminate. Even so, she
said, if it finds patterns of unequal treatment, it will pursue
The tester program worries some business groups, which view it as
akin to entrapment. The National Federation of Independent Business
in Washington has called the plan "reprehensible" and "misleading."
Barry Lawrence, a spokesman for the Society for Human Resource
Management in Alexandria, Va., which represents personnel directors
at thousands of companies, said testers tend to connote "covert
"It doesn't seem to be a very ethical practice," he said.
Companies also say that interviewing fake job candidates will
increase their costs and time spent on hiring. The commission sees
"It's not going to be anything more than what employers normally
do and we have no built-in assumptions about what we're going to
find," said Ellen J. Vargyas, the commission's legal counsel.
Even so, the plan is already having an impact.
"Since December, we've had double the number of requests for
training in hiring," said Garry Mathiason, senior partner with
Littler, Mendelson, Fastiff, Tichy & Mathiason of San Francisco,
which specializes in employment law. …