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Your Employee Matters


By March 1, 2011No Comments

Although it’s not binding on employers, a recent informal discussion letter from the EEOC about the use of criminal records as an employment-screening tool reminds us that employers must be careful when making certain inquiries during the pre-employment phase. Here are 10 tips from the letter:

  1. Ask questions related to the applicant’s qualifications The purpose of an interview is to obtain sufficient job-related information to make an informed employment decision. Questions that aren’t job-related will be viewed as suspect, particularly if they appear to have an impact on a protected class.
  2. Be careful about questions regarding outside activities Questions about an applicant’s membership in clubs, organizations, or about hobbies, if not job related, can be problematic if they reveal information about protected characteristics.
  3. Don’t ask about familial status or intentions The EEOC will assume that the purpose of such inquiries is to screen out individuals who answer “incorrectly” and that the questions will have a discriminatory impact on women.
  4. Avoid asking about child care arrangements This is an area of questioning that might screen out female applicants. However, it’s entirely proper to present the specific job schedule and ask all applicants whether they can regularly comply with this schedule.
  5. Stay away from physical and mental health inquiries It is illegal to ask an applicant questions that relate to health or medical conditions, with one exception: If an applicant’s apparent disability legitimately calls into question his ability to perform a job, the person may be asked how he would perform the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.
  6. Age is not a permissible inquiry The Age Discrimination in Employment Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on an applicant’s age. It’s best to avoid all inquiries, such as when an applicant attended or graduated from school, because such an inquiry might reveal her age.
  7. Don’t ask about discrimination charges or lawsuits It’s illegal to retaliate against a potential employee for complaining about discrimination. Failing to hire someone because of his answer to this question might imply that your company engages in unlawful retaliation.
  8. Avoid asking about prior Workers’ Compensation claims It’s illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone because of Workers Compensation claims that they have filed.
  9. Arrest record inquiries are improper The EEOC and courts have held that questions about arrest records can have an intimidating effect on members of certain minority groups and can’t be justified by business reasons. Although questions about an applicant’s criminal convictions are legal, take convictions into account in the hiring decision only if they’re related to the job in question.
  10. Be careful with post-offer requests for information Wait to obtain certain types of information until after you have made an offer of employment. For example, you may require pre-employment medical examinations post-offer, so long as you make this requirement of everyone in the same job classification. Ask for information for insurance and benefits purposes, which may include personal characteristics and familial status, only after hiring.

Note: HR That Works members can use our post-offer fit-for-duty tools and watch Don’s webinar on Getting Pre-Hire Physicals Right.

Article courtesy of Worklaw® Network firm Shawe Rosenthal.