The Washington Post Sunday

Sitting Across From a Questionab­le Query

- 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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