THE LAW. Job interviews are a legal minefield for HR people and managers. Your questions must avoid stepping on federal and state equal employment laws that ban discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin or citizenship, religion, sex, age and disability. Some state laws also ban discrimination based on factors such as marital status, family status, sexual orientation and AIDS.
Also, federal recordkeeping re-quirements mandate that you keep any interview notes, as well as application forms and other hiring records, for at least one year. Federal contractors must retain such records for at least two years.
WHAT'S NEW. The sour economy kept employees in their seats in recent years. Now, about 40 percent of them plan to change jobs this year, according to a new CareerBuilder survey. If your company is ramping up staffing, now is a good time to remind hiring managers how to dodge the legal traps of interviewing.
On the regulatory front, new rules proposed by the EEOC aim to clarify and modernize the fuzzy definition of an online "applicant." The rules essentially say an applicant is someone who responds correctly to a specific job opening, not someone who shoots out random unsolicited rÈsumÈs. If applicants don't meet the new criteria, you won't have to bother retaining their applicant paperwork.
HOW TO COMPLY. When it comes to interviewing, stick to job-related questions that help select the best candidate. Veering off that track can expose your organization to charges of hiring discrimination.
What kinds of questions create the most trouble? Any question that asks an applicant about his or her mental or physical condition, marital status, personal finances, religious affiliation, age, race, previous residences (which might point to a particular racial, ethnic or economic status), ability to speak a foreign language (unless fluency in that language is a bona fide job qualification), child care arrangements or membership in political or volunteer organizations. Nor can you ask whether the applicant has ever filed for workers' compensation, or whether the applicant is pro-union.
Even if a job candidate reveals information that you're not allowed to ask (such as that he or she has three children), you're not free to ask more about that subject. Steer the interview back on track by asking an unrelated question. The more you learn about the candidate's personal life, the more difficult it will be for you to convince a court that the information played no role in your decision not to hire him or her.
While most illegal questioning stems from ignorance, not maliciousness, that won't matter. Courts can determine that questions singling out a group were discriminatory, even though no bias was intended.
Bottom line: If you're not sure whether a particular question is legal, stop and ask yourself "Would I make the same inquiry with any other applicant?" In the end, the only question you really need to ask is this: How are you qualified to perform the job? Every question you ask should relate to this central query.
Educate all hiring managers on what's illegal to ask in interviews. Require interviewers to prepare a list of questions and stick to it; avoid off-the-cuff tangents.
FREE REPORT: For more advice on the interview process, access our free
E-visory report, Legal and Effec-tive Job Interviews, at www.you-and-the-law.com/extra.
10 questions to avoid in job interviews
1. Are you married? Divorced?
2. If single, are you living withanyone?
3. Do you have children? How many? How old are they?
4. Do you own or rent your home?
5. What church do you attend?
6. Do you have any debts?
7. Do you belong to any social or political organizations?
8. Do you suffer from an illness or a disability?
9. Do you plan to get married, start a family?
10. What would you do if your hus- band/wife were transferred?
Note: Each of these questions could be used as evidence in a discrimination claim.
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