Human Resources News & Insights

Interviews: Danger zone for family responsibility bias claims

As work/life balance becomes a bigger concern for employees, family responsibility discrimination looms as the next big target for bias claims. The scary part: Your legal exposure begins with your first conversation with a job candidate.

Asking applicants about their family status — often a convenient way to “break the ice” when meeting a new person — can be dangerous in a job interview, according to the Center for Worklife Law (CWL), an arm of the University of California’s Hastings College of Law.

In its October alert for employers, CWL cites three legal cases that ended with employers forking over big damages:

  • A prospective clothing clerk who revealed to her interviewer that she was pregnant was told by a manager to “come back after she had the baby”
  • An applicant who was asked whether she planned to have children — the interviewer said he didn’t want to hire some woman who’d just get pregnant and quit, and
  • A law clerk interviewing for an associate’s position at a law firm, who mentioned that she had a small child and planned to have more. The interviewer told management the woman’s priorities were “elsewhere” — and that he wouldn’t have even hired her as a clerk if he’d known she was pregnant.

OK, so those are some pretty egregious mistakes. But there’s no question that in these litigious times, HR’s got to be careful about the questions posed to job applicants.

Here are some of CWL’s suggestions for interviewers:

  • Focus only on the ability to do the job.
  • Don’t ask the applicant about family responsibilities, childcare issues, or pregnancies.
  • If the applicant mentions details about his or her family life, don’t follow up conversationally, put it in your notes or mention it to other staffers.

To read the full Employer Alert, go here and click on How to Avoid FRD in Interviews: When Asking ‘How’s the Family?’ is not a Good Question.

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