By Angela Copeland
When it comes to job interviews, there are certain questions that are off limits. Not only are they a faux pas, they are against the law.
One illegal question is around a person’s family status. Employers are not allowed to ask a candidate if they are married. They are also not allowed to ask whether or not the person has children.
The reasons behind these rules are simple. There’s room for unequal treatment between those with children and spouses and those without. Honestly, the judgement can go both ways. One employer may prefer someone with no children who is (in theory) able to work long hours. Another employer may prefer someone with children because it (in theory) indicates that the person is stable and unlikely to switch jobs quickly. Someone with a house and kids has to put food on the table, even when they’re unhappy.
Most people know these questions aren’t allowed. But, many employers ask anyway. So, how can an employer manage to ask such an obviously illegal question? Well, it’s easier than you might think.
Very often, they work it into a question about relocation. The question should be, “Are you willing to relocate to our city for this opportunity?” The answer should be, “Yes, I am willing to relocate to your city.” The creative version of this question is, “When it comes to relocation, what do you need to relocate? Will you be relocating with a spouse and children?”
Phrased in this way the question almost sounds necessary. But, why? Why does it matter if someone has to relocate their children? It doesn’t. Perhaps this may impact when the person is available to relocate. But, if this is a concern, the new question might be, “Are you available to relocate by July 15?” This answers the employer’s question without stepping over the line.
Sometimes, an employer will justify this question by saying they’re trying to get to know the candidate better. Maybe they are. But, there’s also a possibility that the answer to the question (whatever it is) may create some level of bias against the candidate.
This is why this question is not allowed – to prevent bias and to keep the playing field level. Whether or not a person has children or a spouse, the most important thing is that they show up on time and that they do a great job. People can succeed or fail at this, regardless of their family status.
If you’re a hiring manager, take note. Your candidates do notice when you ask illegal questions. Just because they answer them doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention.
If you’re a job seeker, you’re not alone. These questions are asked more than anyone would like to admit. There isn’t a perfect answer to uncomfortable questions. But, pay attention to the way you felt when you were asked. It may be an indication of what’s ahead.
Angela Copeland, a career influencer and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.