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The ADA has revolutionized the job interview. Although interviews have historically been an unreliable way to determine a worker’s performance, employers continue to use them out of a sense of tradition.

The ADA has brought some structure to the job interview, and by making employers focus on the applicant’s ability to perform the job’s essential functions, the law may even enable employers to hire better employees.

Remember: You may not ask any question whose answer might reveal a disability. To be safe, only ask questions about the person’s ability to perform the job’s essential functions. Of course, in order to do this, employers must have accurate and up-to-date job descriptions outlining essential and nonessential job functions. Job descriptions should be updated regularly by taking input from both employees and supervisors. Courts frown upon out-of-date job descriptions.

EEOC guidelines

If you’re confused about which disability-related questions you can legally ask a job applicant or a current employee, you may want to read the EEOC’s guidelines on the issue.

For questions related to interviewing new job applicants, read Enforcement Guidance: Preemployment Disability-Related Questions and Medical Examinations. These guidelines cover what you can and cannot ask in the pre-offer and post-offer stage and when you can legally conduct medical examinations.

Or, if you’re confused about when you can ask current employees about their medical condition or medical tests, the EEOC recently published Enforcement Guidance: Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations of Employees Under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The guidelines offer specific scenarios on when employers can obtain medical information on current employees. (If an employee is having no performance problems, it’s typically inappropriate to ask about his medical condition.)

The EEOC’s rules also explain how you must treat current employees applying for a different job within your company. Its basic position: Treat them as you would any applicant, meaning that you are restricted in asking medical questions and requiring exams before making a conditional job offer.

To obtain either set of guidelines free in booklet form, call the Government Printing Office at (800) 669-EEOC. 

Make interview site accessible

The place where you conduct interviews says a great deal about your organization’s willingness to accommodate disabled workers.

The interview site should be easily accessible for wheelchair-bound applicants and have disabled-accessible restrooms. Additionally, check the site for other accessibility issues: handicapped parking spaces, properly sized aisles and doors, and alarm systems that emit both audible and visual signals in the event of an emergency.

Building accessibility guidelines are available at www.access-board.gov.

(See box for guidance on what questions you can and can’t ask applicants during job interviews.)

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