Avoiding Discrimination During the Job Interview Process

job interviewEffectively conducting an interview is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the hiring process. You spend hours or even days going through resumes and narrowing down the list of actual interviewees who fit the job description. As you prepare for your first interview, you scan over the female’s resume. Under her volunteer activities, you notice that she is an elementary school volunteer. To break the ice and get the interview underway, you tell the applicant that you’ve noticed she’s a volunteer. You then ask if she has any kids.

While this type of casual conversation could be considered innocent in other situations, you have just opened the door to lawsuits with one simple question. If the applicant does not get the job, she may feel discriminated because of being a mother of five children under the age of 10.

Consider the case of a Corpus Christi Sears store who was just recently forced to pay $30,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Although the applicant possessed 27 years of experience, he was not hired due to his 61 years of age. Remember the case of Abercrombie & Fitch. In 2004, the clothing store was forced to pay nearly $40 million dollars in a lawsuit regarding their discrimination based on applicants’ religions. Apparently not getting the point of appropriate interview techniques, Abercrombie is once again facing a lawsuit from the EEOC for discriminating a female applicant wearing a hijab (religious scarf).

While not all cases are high profile and result in such monetary loss of the company, it is important to remember that there are set discrimination laws in place to protect the applicant. Cases like Sears and Abercrombie occur every year. Just check out EEOC’s homepage and you can find an updated listing of millions of dollars being paid out regarding employee and applicant discrimination. So, next time you are conducting an interview, do not ask..

* for an age. You could instead ask if the applicant is over the age of 18.
* any questions regarding religious beliefs or holidays.
* about family, marital status, or daycare arrangements.
* about education or training that does not pertain to the job description.
* any questions regarding race. However, you could ask for proof of eligibility to work in the U.S.
* about the applicant’s native language or birthplace. However, you may question their fluency in English or a foreign language if it directly relates to the job.
* questions concerning the applicant’s medical history, including height, weight, diseases, etc.
* regarding their arrest record. In some states, it may be acceptable to ask if the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime.
* for financial information. Some states may allow a credit check with the applicant’s approval. However, be sure to check your state’s laws before asking.
* any questions specifically targeting their gender.
* questions about a current pregnancy or anticipated pregnancies.
* any questions concerning physical or mental disabilities. You may ask if the applicant can perform the essential job duties.

interview for jobWhile it may be tempting to question how a single mother of five children is going to handle a demanding, 40 hour per week job, you cannot do so. These laws are put into place to protect applicants from losing a job based on their religion, race, age, sex, etc.

However, as the employer, you may feel these laws prohibit you from asking enough information to hire the right employee. In order to avoid legal conflicts, while still getting enough information to make a hiring decision, create a bulleted list of job descriptions and responsibilities.

Next, create a list of questions to ask the applicant. As you are preparing each question, ask yourself if it directly relates to the job descriptions or essential tasks. If not, chances are you don’t need to ask it. The goal here is to find a qualified applicant that wants to work. Whether or not they have a babysitter is not necessarily your concern. Keep every single question job related. Otherwise, you may just find yourself in a legal quandry. Each state has differing laws regarding acceptable and unacceptable interview questions and techniques. When in doubt, consult a legal attorney.

Image credits: top by Adam Gregor / Fotolia; bottom by Nikola Hristovski / Fotolia.

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