Is alumni-bias illegal?

The CEO wants to hire a candidate because they went to the same college but could the personal preference be classed as discriminatory?

It’s not uncommon to click with a candidate because they went to the same college – or even support the same sports team – but could basing your hiring decision on that personal preference actually be classed as discriminatory? HRM asked a leading employment lawyer for his advice.

“You can have a bias towards a certain school but it’s by degrees,” says Martin Sheard. “If you’re trying to say; ‘Well I went to Thomas Jefferson School of Law in Boise, Idaho and you did too so I’m turning down the Harvard guy,’ that’s a little less justifiable than; ‘I went to UBC and so did you so I’m turning down the guy from Windsor School of Law.’

While it may be more justifiable, Vancouver-based Shears says employers are free to express preferences for anything that doesn’t amount to a human rights violation.

“An employer can made bad business decisions and there’s no law against that,” explained Sheard. “I could hire you because I like the colour of your shoes or because you’re taller than the other person or for anything like that and I think which school you went to or what sports team you supported would definitely fall into that category.”

Sheard stresses that employers will only begin to fall afoul of the law if they base their decisions on the nine protected categories laid out in the Human Rights Code.

“I can tell you, when we’re hiring internally we discuss pretty much every aspect of a candidate’s package and everything we know about them,” admits Sheard, of Tevlin Gleadle Curtis.

“I’ll go onto Facebook and just generally Google a person and see what comes up – are they careful enough to present a professional image to the outside world? That too would factor into my decision to hire or not hire someone.”

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