“How’s the Family?”: Family-Responsibilities Discrimination In Job Interviews

3d_family_3We hope that most interviewers know it is inappropriate to ask in an interview: “How old are you” (you can ask if the person is 18 years of age or older) or “Do you celebrate Ramadan?”  There is another danger zone in interviewing, which is often unrecognized by employers but which can get them into just as much trouble: questions pertaining to an applicant’s family or family responsibilities.

Innocent ice-breaker discussions often seem to involve questions about the applicant’s family.  I see this happen most often with female interviewers, who tend to find family and children as a common ground with the applicant.  Sports—the default for men—is a much safer topic. Go Eagles/Phillies/Flyers!

The Center for WorkLife Law has published a helpful alert for employers as it pertains to what NOT to ask in an interview regarding the applicant’s family. As the alert emphasizes – focus your questions on the candidate’s ability to do the job. An employer (or potential employer) should not care about the why or how, only whether the job can be done. You do not have to treat an employee any differently because the reason for his or her failure to perform adequately is child-care responsibilities at home. Just remember to focus on the performance, not the reason. The WorkLife Law alert gives other helpful examples and guidance worth reviewing.