Articles Posted in Interviewing

Investigating complaints of inappropriate workplace conduct is a difficult challenge for any number of reasons. But conducting an immediate and thorough investigation is critical to both preventing lawsuits and to avoiding liability should a lawsuit arise. Human-resource professionals often ask for tips in handling this challenge. Here are three.male female sign_3

First, don’t be shy. An investigation of workplace harassment is not the time to be timid. Ask the tough questions and be direct. Don’t mince words or dance around the questions. Consider writing out the questions that you need answers to and actually check them off your list. If you don’t ask a straight question, you’ll never get a straight answer.

Second, don’t decide anything in advance. This is important because, if you’ve already made your mind up before you ask the question, you’ve already failed as an investigator. In order to get the information that you need, you must truly listen. And the interviewee will know if you’re not listening. So keep an open mind and don’t jump to conclusions.

Want some free anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training? Well, have I got a deal for you! Mystery Diners is a reality show on the Food Network. The show’s concept involves a father-daughter team who pretend to be employees and/or customers at a target restaurant in order to help the owner uncover the “leaks in the dam” so to speak.

An episode that aired last week, called, “Managing Disaster,” could be used as a workplace best-practices training video. In short, you could use the video to train employees that any of the conduct by the restaurant’s manager should be considered prohibited conduct in your workplace.

Yes, it really was that bad. And I mean bad. Let me take a moment to run through just a few examples of conduct that occurred during the hiring process.

Any human-resource professional who conducts internal investigations of employee complaints (i.e., discrimination, harassment, bullying) would be well advised to read the new book, The Invisible Gorilla.  The book is written by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, the two minds who collaborated on a famous psychological experiment for which they were awarded the Ig Nobel Prize in Psychology. 

If you haven’t heard of the “gorilla experiment” (also known as a “selective-attention test”), you can (and should) check it out on the authors’ website.  You can watch the video to take the test-but be warned that you may be very, very surprised by the results!  According to the authors:

This experiment reveals two things: that we are missing a lot of what goes on around us, and that we have no idea that we are missing so much.

By as early as 2010, the Baby Boomers will leave the workforce en masse.  As the “reliable” generation heads towards retirement, employers will be faced with a substantial need for new recruits.  And those employers who have the foresight to plan ahead know that recruiting starts now.  Otherwise, there will be nothing but college grads and retirees.  To prevent the “brain drain,” the need for mid-level managers must be factored into hiring and recruiting decisions now.  social-media-community

More than ever, the hiring process is a critical element of success planning.  But hiring, of course, is no easy thing.  There are obstacles everywhere.  And, frankly, hiring should be a priority far beyond the Human Resources department.  It should be a priority for the C-Suite, too.  If senior management appreciates the fundamental need for good hiring decisions, there will be less resistance to implementing a full-fledged hiring program.  In an ideal world, all companies would have one. 

If you are one of the businesses fortunate enough to get buy-in from executive management, one of the best things you can do is to be highly selective in choosing the hiring team.  The authority to be involved in the hiring process, at any level, should be granted sparingly.  Treat the hiring team with the importance it deserves and don’t let the undeserving join the team.

Good documentation practices during the hiring process can help employers avoid a failure-to-hire claim.  And that’s a good thing, considering that failure-to-hire claims are costly. Just ask Perdue.  The poultry company has agreed to a pay out of more than $800k to settle a claim of disparate impact arising from what the DOL concluded to be systematic discrimination against non-Hispanic job applicants. 


Disparate Impact Claim

A Labor Department news release states an evaluation in 2005 and 2006 by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) found the Salisbury-based company failed to comply with federal employment laws at its poultry processing plants in Rockingham, N.C., Dillon, S.C., and Monterey, Tenn. (The OFCCP has jurisdiction because Perdue supplies poultry under a federal contract to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.)

The settlement agreement will require Perdue to pay $800,000 in back wages and interest to 750 women and minorities who were not hired during the relevant time period.  The company also will make employment offers to some of those who were not hired but who are still interested in employment with Perdue.  In those cases, the employees will receive retroactive company service dates for purposes of benefits and promotion rights. 

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. 



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?” 

Pregnancy Discrimination, Maternal Profiling, Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD), and Mother’s Day.  A natural combination.  You can add one more to that list.  Off-limit interview questions. 


When I teach seminars about best hiring practices, I usually get at least a few dirty looks when I talk about interview questions that should be avoided.  Employers and HR professionals often comment that interviews should be conversational to put the candidate at ease so the interviewer can get to know the “real” candidate.  Not a good idea.

Here’s why:

Maternal Profiling (a subset of Family Responsibilities Discrimination, “FRD”), is employment discrimination against a woman who has, or will have, children.  Firing a newly pregnant employee. Interview questions designed to elicit details about child-care arrangements.  Just in time for Mother’s Day, here are some key points for employers about this type of workplace discrimination.


Profiles of Maternal Profiling

In late April 2008, ABC News aired a piece on World News With Charles Gibson about Maternal Profiling.  As a follow-up to the piece, the ABCNews website posted an article called, Are You a Victim of Maternal Profiling, featuring women from Pennsylvania who had personally experienced this type of discrimination.

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