Emerging Issues in Security

Avoiding Bias When Hiring Security Officers

The challenge for the security guard industry has always been: How do we hire the best and the brightest, even though we can’t pay them as much as we need to? How do we attract qualified people? Security officer firms that need to hire a lot of guards to staff a new or expanding contract must strike a balance between taking every applicant who applies and being too selective.

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As human beings involved in the Human Resources process, it’s hard not to judge a book by its cover and go by first impressions when interviewing applicants for guard positions. Whether it’s tattoos, piercings, unique beards or hairstyles, or interesting-looking streaks of blue, purple, and orange hair dye, it’s easy to make value judgments about an applicant’s initial look when he or she is sitting in front of you at the interview desk. While it’s certainly illegal, discriminatory, and unethical to reject an applicant based only on the fact that he or she doesn’t “look like you want them look,” you can set certain policy standards for appearance for those guards who wear your uniforms and represent your firm at client sites. Covering tattoos, keeping head and facial hair neat or trimmed, and asking all employees not to wear any type of jewelry that could be distracting or get caught in machinery is appropriate as long as it’s enforced for all employees.

It’s also possible to have biases against female applicants, older applicants, or disabled applicants. Discriminating against any three of these protected classes is illegal, and your entire hiring process—application form design, application or résumé screening process, interview process (panel interviews, pen and paper testing, role plays or scenario testing, use of personality tests), selection process, medical or drug testing, and probationary period—must be legal and consistent with national fair hiring practices.

What about drug testing and criminal history background checks? The laws in both of these areas have changed substantially over the years, especially for criminal histories and states that have enacted new “ban the box” laws to prevent discrimination against applicants who have minor or long-past criminal convictions.

Some guard companies test for some drugs—typically opiates, alcohol, methamphetamines, Ecstasy (MDMA), PCP, and cocaine—but not for marijuana. Since marijuana use and possession laws have been legalized or at least decriminalized in nearly one-half the states, some guard firms in areas like Washington, D.C.; Oregon; Washington state; and Colorado say, “If I turned away every applicant who tested positive for marijuana, I wouldn’t have any employees.” While this may be true, those firms can also prohibit employees from using or possessing marijuana while at or coming to work, or not possessing marijuana smoking devices on the job, and of course, not coming to work under the influence, which could make them subject to being sent out for a “reasonable suspicion” urine test.

For some applicants, this could be either their first guard job or their first real job as an adult. In those instances, it may be useful to hire the applicant who shows plenty of “enthusiasm versus experience,” when compared to an applicant who has worked many security jobs and doesn’t seem to care if he or she gets this one or not.

Give new employees a chance to succeed using policies, early training, and close supervision. Early success comes from effective onboarding and orientation, especially at the client’s site; well-crafted and well-understood posted orders; continuous training; and a probationary period.