Sit­ting Across From a Ques­tion­able Query

The Washington Post Sunday - - Jobs - By Vickie Elmer

K Med­i­cal and dis­abil­ity queries. The Amer­i­cans With Dis­abil­i­ties Act pro­hibits many ques­tions, in­clud­ing those that re­veal whether a per­son has a dis­abil­ity.

“There are many other kinds of med­i­cal ques­tions pro­hib­ited un­der this stan­dard,” said Sharon Ren­nert, a lawyer at the fed­eral Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion. Il­le­gal ques­tions in­clude hos­pi­tal­iza­tion, pre­scrip­tion drugs taken or his­tory with a psy­chi­a­trist.

Some­times em­ploy­ers are sur­prised to see a can­di­date’s dis­abil­ity, so they will ask il­le­gal ques­tions while their guard is down, Ren­nert said.

Em­ploy­ers can ask whether can­di­dates can do the job or whether they need any “ac­com­mo­da­tion.” They can ask whether can­di­dates can lift 50 pounds or read tiny print if that is needed to do the job, Ka­plan said. K Mar­i­tal sta­tus, fam­ily sit­u­a­tion. The Dis­trict, Mary­land and Mont­gomery County out­law em­ploy­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion based on whether you’re mar­ried. In the Dis­trict and Mary­land, the laws add fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, which in­clude child care and child cus­tody ar­range­ments, said Diane Seltzer, an em­ploy­ment lawyer at the Seltzer Law Firm.

“They think: I’m just get­ting to know

In­ap­pro­pri­ate or po­ten­tially il­le­gal ques­tions pop up in job in­ter­views fairly fre­quently, ex­perts say. Th­ese ques­tions com­pli­cate mat­ters for the ap­pli­cant and the in­ter­viewer.

“There are only a cou­ple that are flatout il­le­gal. The rest fall into cat­e­gories that may not be tech­ni­cally il­le­gal but raise the sus­pi­cion that em­ployer is us­ing [dis­crim­i­na­tory] tac­tics in hir­ing,” said Joseph V. Ka­plan, man­ag­ing part­ner at Pass­man & Ka­plan, a D.C. law firm that rep­re­sents work­ers and unions.

But how to deal with such ques­tions? Here’s some guid­ance:

Clearly Il­le­gal

you,” she said. But friendly chat can lead to dis­crim­i­na­tion against women. “Men don’t get asked th­ese ques­tions,” she said.

Du­bi­ous Top­ics

Th­ese in­ter­view top­ics are not il­le­gal, but they raise sus­pi­cions about the em­ployer’s in­tent. They could in­di­cate dis­crim­i­na­tion if the job seeker is well qual- ified but isn’t hired:

Sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. Some ju­ris­dic­tions, in­clud­ing the Dis­trict, have anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws that cover this.

Age. Em­ploy­ers can ask for age or birth­date, but they need “a law­ful pur­pose.” Oth­er­wise, em­ploy­ers should avoid ask­ing ques­tions that may fig­ure out a can­di­date’s age — such as when they grad­u­ated from high school or col­lege, Seltzer said.

Peo­ple who are 40 and older are pro­tected un­der the Age Dis­crim­i­na­tion in Em­ploy­ment Act. In the Dis­trict, all work­ers are pro­tected from age dis­crim­i­na­tion, so if you look young, you can­not be deemed too young for a man­age­ment job in the city, Seltzer said.

Re­li­gion. Ques­tions about re­li­gious prac­tices or be­liefs present “ev­i­dence of dis­crim­i­na­tion” ex­cept in rare cir­cum­stances, Ka­plan said.

Ar­rests and con­vic­tions. Em­ploy­ers can find out about crim­i­nal con­vic­tions, es­pe­cially if the in­for­ma­tion bears on can­di­dates’ abil­ity to do the job, Ka­plan said. But ques­tions about ar­rests are “much more sus­pect” be­cause ar­rests fall dis­pro­por­tion­ately on mi­nori­ties.

Race or eth­nic back­ground. Em­ploy­ers are al­lowed to ask about race or na­tional ori­gin, but do­ing so may raise red flags — or make can­di­dates un­com­fort­able.

Preg­nancy plans. Em­ploy­ers may­want to know whether a can­di­date will have a baby and leave, or whether she might miss work for preg­nancy-re­lated com­pli­ca­tions, Seltzer said. But this prac­tice can be un­law­ful if it rules out qual­i­fied women. “It’s in­ad­vis­able to ask those ques­tions, not il­le­gal,” said Dianna John­ston, an­other EEOC lawyer.

How to An­swer

Ka­plan thinks can­di­dates should an­swer most ques­tions — even if they seem il­le­gal — and “put their best qual­i­fi­ca­tions for­ward.” Then they have done noth­ing to hurt their chances of get­ting the job— or of bring­ing a dis­crim­i­na­tion charge if they are passed over. Seltzer sees it dif­fer­ently. “Gen­er­ally the best way is to de­flect the ques­tion and an­tic­i­pate [what] the real ques­tion or con­cern of the em­ployer is or should be,” she said. If asked about plans for an­other baby, the job-seeker could say, “Oh, I think I get what you’re get­ting at. You want to know if I’m com­mit­ted to be­ing in the­work­force and I in­tend to be here a long time. And the an­swer is yes.”


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