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Taking legal action against improper interview questions

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Question: I'm an unemployed HR Manager and I recently interviewed for an Office Manager position at a 45-person law firm. Believe it or not, the Managing Partner asked me if I was married and had children. I really think he didn’t know better because they don’t have any HR people working at the firm.

Knowing I shouldn't respond to the question, but yet needing the job and not wanting to blow my chances of being hired, I answered the questions. How should I have handled it?

I'm thinking that if I get the job, then I should point out the illegality of what he asked and inform him what he legally can and cannot ask. It also crossed my mind that he knew exactly what he was doing and wanted to see if I would answer the question.  -- Susan

Comments

I thought exactly what your last sentence said; he was testing you. Too bad it caught you off guard because you could have said, "I see you do need some HR help because you should know that is a question that is not legally allowed." or something in that vein. Keep it light. I hope he didn't try to trick you and good luck with the job hunt.

Don't you just love interviews... You never know what someone will ask. As an HR professional, haven't you ever asked someone a question with a twist or test? Will you handle interviews differently in the future now that you have been "the victim" of an ambiguous question? (I don't think you are acting like a victim) I hope you get the position. Best of Luck...

If he runs a 45 person law firm, yes he does know about these rules, and my guess is he wanted to know if YOU knew, and how you'd handle it. Maybe not a smart way to test you (by breaking the law), but also not a smart move on your part, to answer them! To my mind, one of the big attributes necessary to a successful HR person is her ability to respond or (in this case) redirect questions and control conversations so as to take them in the direction they need to go.

If you ever get in a similar situation, when they ask you a legally inappropriate question you should ask them why they want to know, and when they reply, then you can tell them: I'd like to answer your question, but it's illegal to do so.
I, too, think the interviewer was setting you up and you might not have "passed" the test. Also, you don't want to work for a manager who breaks the law; he might want you to do something illegal, and then you'd be in big-time trouble.

In response to his question, I would have smiled, and said, I know you are aware that personal infomation questions are inappropriate for interviews - I know you are just testing to see if I know it was an inappropriate question. Now, may I suggest you hire me, and then I will be able to provide you with answers . . . still smiling.

A good kick in the shins (his) would have been fun. It is alarming that American business is drifting back to the '50's in this area. Don't kid yourself. Business wants us barefoot & pregnant & at home cranking out little "purchasing units." All this "religion" and "right to life" nonsense is just a cover for the fact that our nation's birthrate is declining & Big Biz needs women to stay home & produce more future consumers to maintain profitability. The current administration with its Big Biz leanings certainly isn't going to crack down on this type of illegal behavior by employers.

I do not feel that any employer would risk a lawsuit by asking you a trick question that is illegal to ask. It would have been a great opportunity for you to have said to your interviewer that you could not answer that question because it is illegal and that when you are hired you will be very happy to help with future interviews. Of course we always think of great answers after the fact due to being nervous in the heat of the moment. It sounds like you did well in your interview and if you are offered the position I would most definetly ask to help with the interview process to help your new employer avoid lawsuits. I think they will be very lucky to have you on board. Good luck.

You should never compromise your own ethics to get a job. If you get hired by this firm, and the interviewer knew exactly what he was doing by asking you this illegal question, then they will expect you to compromise your ethics while employed there. How long will you last in the Office Manager job if you don't?

In response to "Oh gimme a break", you can't possibly be blaming the lack of morals and decent work ethic on "religion" and the "right to life" nonsense? If anything, these are the people who are attempting to shift the moral code of today's cynical, demoralized, crumbling society back into something resembling the magnificent country that we are meant to be. It's too bad that so many people are looking to blame rather than correct. It all begins at home. We need to look ourselves in the face and decide whether we are the problem or the solution. Please don't place blame on something you obviously know nothing about. PS: Some of us have children because we want to, not because we are mindless morons who are concerned with creating new consumers. That is not only insulting but ignorant. If we raise our children right, they will be capable of creating a better world. Sorry Susan, but I had to respond to that comment. As far as your interview goes, I would have to agree that if they are asking illegal questions, they do not seem to be the ethical company that you may want to associate youself with. You deserve better, and better is out there. You may just have to look a little harder.

In response to "Oh Gimme A Break", I'm horrified that someone would blame this type of behavior on religion. I am well aware there are a lot of hypocrites out there, but that is not an excuse. Sorry Susan, now to your dilema. The different possible reasons for this happening have already been laid out for you. If this was a test, you would have failed by answering the question instead of questioning it. I would consider this a learning experience, and when you have your next interview be prepared for this type of question. When you have to respond to this type of interview question, remember to show your abilities by sticking to your guns but be nice about it. Good luck in your job search, something will come up for you.

Our employment law attorney told me that lawyers are the worst at making illegal comments or statements. I'm not surprised that he asked you those questions, and he probably didn't know they were illegal to ask. I would have answered him honestly, and then asked if they had any relevance to your getting the job or not. Good luck!

I was in a similar position years ago when I first got married. I was asked the same question and felt the same pressure you did. At that time I wanted the job. It is a tough decision to make in a split second of time. Looking back, I think it would not have mattered how I answered. They already had formed an opinion. It was probably a good thing I did not get the position. This company would not have been an organization that respects employees time off for family, vacations, holidays, doctors visits, sickness, etc. Not a company I would have been happy to work for long term.

I think you should file a claim with the EEOC or have a attorney that specilizes in employment law assist you with it would be ideal. American companies need to stop this kind of illegal behavior. If you just talk about it in a chat forum and let it go, how will that help you or women all over the county that are and have experienced the same type of discrimintation? I know it's easier to let it go but thats exactly what corporate America wants you to do.

You handled the question the best way you knew how, so #1, please do not dwell on it, nothing can be changed. It's difficult to know just from an interview what the intention of the question truly was. Yes, it's illegal and no your morals were not compromised by answering it because most of us react differently to something we have been taken by surprise with. Some of the other advice in this forum was good regarding how to handle it, next time you'll be ready but you can hendle it with a method that is most comfortable for you. Best to you.

I was asked the same question recently. I debated about telling the interviewer that the question was illegal, but decided this wasn't really the place or the time. My answer was, "I have dogs."

I once worked for a very small office and interviewed prospective employees. I did not know the law, and when I found out and asked my employer about it he said, "it is illegal for me to ask those questions but you can." My advice would be that if you are applying at a large company it is illegal, they should know, and you could say you'll be glad to answer that question if it comes directly from your prospective employer.

If you are applying at a small company, say less than 20 people, then you might asking why this is important to them, then answer honestly.

Ignoring how ridiculous and insulting Oh Give Me a Break's answer was, one way to deal with it might have been just a very direct reply, "Um, you aren't legally allowed to ask a question like that." Not in an angry way, but in a helpful suggestion kind of way.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

vicki March 30, 2009 at 1:28 am

During the second interview for a role in HR, the manager and I chatted generally about current and past world events, and he commented ‘oh so you must be the same age as me’. I smiled, waved my finger at him, and said ‘Ah ah, you aren’t allowed to ask me that’. He chuckled and I got the job anyway.

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