“[This employer] does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, ethnic or national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, genetic information, age or veteran status.”

Nearly every job application or employment contract contains a disclaimer similar to the one above.  That statement will also mention something about the employer being an Equal Opportunity Employer, which is a moniker all employers are required by law to carry.  Any act of discrimination toward employees or applicants is forbidden by under the Equal Opportunity Employment Law.

These statutes are especially important to keep in mind during the interview process.  Because the interview is all about getting to know the candidate, some of these topics might seem only natural.  But, in order to maintain the integrity of your EOE status, the lines of questioning must stay within certain bounds.  A good rule of thumb is simply to avoid questions that include any one of the terms listed in the disclaimer above:  Race, Color, Religion, Ethnic or national origin, Gender, Sexual orientation, Disability, Genetic information, Age, Veteran status.

Sounds easy enough, right?  Well, it can be trickier than you think.  HR World put out a great list of questions to avoid, as well as some alternative questions that will help you get to know a candidate without violating any EOE laws.  A few of their suggestions are listed below:

Religion

You can’t ask:  What religion do you practice?  Which religious holidays do you observe?

What you can ask instead:  What days are you available to work?  Are you able to work with our required schedule?

Age

What you can’t ask:  How old are you?  How much longer before you retire?

What you can ask instead:  Are you over the age of 18?  What are your long term career goals?

Gender

What you can’t ask:  How do you feel about supervising men/women?

What you can ask instead:  Tell me about your previous experience managing teams.

Disabilities

What you can’t ask:  Do you have any disabilities?  How many sick days did you take last year?

What you can ask:  Are you able to perform the specific duties of the position?  How many days of work did you miss last year?

 

While the differences in the allowable/non-allowable questions are subtle, they are significant in the eyes of the law.  Your safest bet is to stick to questions that are purposeful and intentional.  Think about what you really need to know and what your base priorities are for a new hire.

With that, it is important to be very specific when developing the job description.  Any duties or responsibilities that the job will require should be clearly outlined so that when a question like, “Are you able to perform the duties of the position?” comes up, an applicant has the opportunity to answer honestly.   It is better to eliminate a candidate in the search process because of a duty that cannot be performed than to find out after the hire.  Unclear expectations can get employers into real trouble, so it is best to lay everything out ahead of time.

Those keys, along with your intuition should be all that you need to determine the strength, character and potential of any applicant without the slightest hint of violating either of your rights under the EOE laws.

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