HR pros know the keys to legal hiring. But managers and other folks who conduct interviews can inadvertently leave the company open to potential lawsuits.
Here are three common mistakes your managers need to look out for:
1. The wrong kind of small talk
Interviewers try to make candidates comfortable by asking a little about themselves. But there are some things employers just don’t want to know — and asking about them might give the appearance of bias if a candidate is turned down.
These topics and questions should be avoided:
- Family status. (“Do you have kids?”; “Are you married?”)
- Religion. (“What church do you go to?”)
- Nationality. (“Is English your native language?”; “How long have you lived here?”)
- Age. (“When were you born?”)
2. Exaggerating benefits
Since they don’t want talent to slip away, managers sometimes bend the truth about the job in order to get people in the door. Tactics range from flat-out lying about pay to exaggerating how quickly an employee can be promoted.
That becomes a problem when candidates feel they were tricked into accepting an offer. It’s less common than other employment suits, but those folks have had some success with so-called “truth-in-hiring” lawsuits.
In one case, a company hired a woman and told her she’d run a new department that was being formed. But the department was never created. She worked for two years in an area outside of her expertise and was let go.
She sued for fraud and won. The firm argued it couldn’t be held liable just because its plan didn’t pan out. But the court said the company never intended to do what it told the woman in order to hire her (Cite: Stewart v. Jackson & Nash).
3. Jumping the gun
In one recent case, a candidate received a written job offer. But after the company checked his references, the manager decided he wouldn’t be a good fit. The offer was rescinded.
He sued for breach of contract. The case was thrown out because he was an at-will employee and never had a contract. The judge said he could be fired at any time – including before his start date (Cite: Petitte v. DSL.net, Inc.).
The company won the case, but the suit might have been avoided altogether if it had:
- held off on the offer until after calling the references, or
- put a statement in the letter such as, “This offer is contingent on the completion of a clean background check.”