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Hiring: Sometimes, personal questions are OK

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring

We all know that hiring managers are supposed to avoid personal or intrusive questions when interviewing job applicants. That’s true 99% of the time.

However, under some limited circumstances, getting answers to such questions may be relevant and necessary to the hiring process.

Recent case: Catherine applied for a job as a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff. During a background check interview, she claims that she was asked about her sexual history and practices. Among the topics: How old she was when she first had sex, whether she ever watched child pornography or ever had sex in public.

She dropped her application and sued, alleging sexual harassment and sex discrimination.

Los Angeles County admitted that it asked intrusive questions but claimed they were all aimed at seeing whether Catherine was a good candidate for the position, which required enforcing laws against things like indecent exposure, child pornography and other sexual crimes. It essentially argued that it had to know whether the candidate could uphold the law in light of her personal background.

The court first concluded that a few questions of a sexual nature during an interview and background check weren’t enough to create a sexually hostile work environment. Then it added that there was no evidence sex discrimination took place, since the county asked all applicants the same questions. It tossed out Catherine’s lawsuit. (Logerot v. County of Los Angeles, No. B232702, Court of Appeal of California, 2nd Appellate District, 2012)

Final note: The circumstances in this case are rather unique. Before even considering asking such questions, seek legal advice. Have your attorney approve the questions in advance, based on whether they serve a legitimate business purpose.

It goes without saying that you must ask all applicants the same questions.

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