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Caution when asking about applicant hobbies

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in Hiring,Human Resources

Some companies in notoriously high-pressure industries are making what seems like counterintuitive hiring moves: To improve productivity, they’re seeking employees who they know are willing to stop and smell the roses.

Too bad such good intentions run the risk of increasing an employers’ legal liability.

Example: Silicon Valley marketing analytics firm Full Circle Insights recently earned glowing news coverage for its unusual hiring criteria: It won’t invite anyone to come aboard if they don’t have a hobby that requires spending a significant amount of time to enjoy.

CEO Bonnie Crater believes that employees who are passionate about outside interests are more productive.

Policies like that have plenty of upsides. They can help create a more relaxed, more creative and less toxic work culture. They may be the honey that attracts millennial worker bees, who value work/life balance.

But, asking employees about their hobbies or outside interests could lead to some legal liabilities for employers.

Let’s say an applicant’s passion is doing volunteer work through her church. Asking about that means a prospective employer now knows about that applicant’s religious affiliation. Now, let’s say the volunteer ministry serves people with HIV. Suddenly the threat of a religious discrimination or association discrimination lawsuit looms where no risk existed before.

In some cases, an employer’s ignorance is bliss—and a solid defense. Employers cannot discriminate based on traits they do not know.

None of this means an applicant’s outside interests are off-limits during the getting-to-know-you  part of an interview. If it’s important for you to hire well-rounded employees, feel free to ask about hobbies and after-hours activities.

But, be prepared to add a disclaimer stating that job applicants are not required to reveal membership in any church or religious organization or divulge other information pertaining to a protected class.

Advice: Employers whose inquiries venture beyond the employee’s qualifications should have an attorney review their hiring practices to ensure the process does not create potential employer liability.

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