How Easy Is It to Ask Off-Limit Interview Questions? As Easy as Buying a Stuffed Toy Schnauzer

Interviews are the usual starting line for pregnancy-discrimination suits and, more recently, FRD claims. I often get questions from clients or seminar attendees about the perils of interview questions.  A common theme is why is it that they shouldn’t ask candidates about their family, i.e., spouse, kids, etc. 

 

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It seems natural. “Oh, I see you volunteer at the North East community center.  My kids take swimming lessons there.  Do your kids take any classes there?” Heck, I can give you a real-life example that happened to me last week. 

I was at the local greeting-card store.  As I was checking out, the [female] employee looks up and says enthusiastically, “Do you have any little ones at home?” 

I nearly choked on my Lifesaver.  I kid you not.  (No pun intended, really).  I stood there, mouth open, speechless. 

She turned around and grabbed a toy Schnauzer from a counter lined with little stuffed animals.  “You get one of these for free for a purchase of $20 or more.”  I lifted my chin off the ground and nodded while she stuffed the toy toy (ok, pun intended) into my shopping bag. 

The employee was probably all of 23 years old.  She had no intention of forming opinions of me based on my answer to to her question.  She was just trying to give me the free toy.  But the question caught me off my guard. 

I can almost guarantee that if you went back to the store and asked her about it, she would have positively no idea who I was–one of many customers she’d seen that night.  She certainly would not recall what she’d said to me. 

It’s that easy.  Despite best intentions, it is so easy for an interviewer to ask a question that leads to a lawsuit.

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