June 2, 2023 • By Dennis Beaver
“Mr. Beaver, recently I graduated with top grades from a private, one-year secretarial and office management program, and was sent out on my first job interview to an IT company. It was a Friday and they invited me to join them for a company BBQ.
“This was the most enjoyable job interview I could ever imagine — it was like a ‘getting to know you date’ with a wonderful group of people, and we had the nicest conversation about family, friends, where we all grew up, future plans, marriage, kids, the importance of religion – all the topics that touched on real life values.
“These were people – and the owner in particular – who I could see myself working with, not for, it was that warm and friendly.
“The job duties included writing letters to customers, summarizing services we had performed, and what the technicians recommended. The owner had me write a letter to a customer based on a typical fact situation. When he read it, his face revealed disappointment, and he said ‘I think this so-called business college took advantage of you. Your writing skills are poor – and that is critical in our business. But you are a delightful young lady and so I have an offer. I will pay for your tuition and books if you take a course in business English at our community college. Complete it successfully, bring me samples of your writing, and if they are good, I will hire you then even if we don’t have a position to fill.’”
Illegal employment discrimination
“When I told my parents all that, Dad took me to see an employment lawyer who says the company engaged in illegal discrimination at the BBQ by inquiring into areas of my personal life that have nothing to do with the job and we can get a lot of money in a lawsuit.
“But I think that would be horrible, punishing a nice employer who just wanted to help me. Mr. Beaver, is that lawyer correct? What should I do? Thanks, ‘Karrie.’”
The Minefield of Job Interviews
I ran Karrie’s situation by Southern California Labor Law attorney Jay Rosenlieb and his HR consultants, Marinor Ifurung and Tim Moreno.
“Sadly, what was always taken for granted — getting to know a job applicant, for example, at a company BBQ as your reader described — has become an invitation to be sued for a violation of a number of state and federal laws,” Rosenlieb points out.
He notes that: “Beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, there has been a societal movement to eliminate all forms of employment discrimination — in effect, the human element beyond competence.”
Therefore, you can only ask about things that focus on:
(1) Knowledge, relevant to the job;
(2) Skills, relevant to the job, and;
(3) Ability, relevant to the job.
Can they Get Along? Are they a good Fit?
Ifurung points out the frustrating aspect of limiting a job interview to these three things, “means that an answer to the all-important question of ‘Does this person have the ability to get along?’ may not be known until the applicant is hired and you then discover that you’ve got someone completely wrong for the job, but who met those three criteria.”
Moreno takes it one step further, asking:
“How do you determine if this person is going to be the right fit if all you are interviewing on is based on knowledge, skills and ability? This is where an HR manager can be of great help who is skilled in the art of asking appropriate questions and looking for responses which will help you decide now, or should we continue to interview other applicants?”
Rosenlieb points out: “A potential employer cannot discriminate based on characteristics that fall within protected classes. These questions might seem logical, but in an effort to remove all possible chances of discrimination, do not ask about: Race or ethnicity, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), religion, national origin, disability (you are entitled to a reasonable accommodation), age (over 40), pregnancy, marital status, genetic information.
“That is not an exclusive list and is all the more reason for an employer who only occasionally conducts job interviews to either engage an HR consultant, or arrange for a consultation with one and be brought current on what not to do or ask during an interview,” he underscores.
With Karrie’s permission, I arranged for a conference call with the lawyer she met who has recommended that she retain his firm and sue the IT firm that declined to hire her.
But before placing that call, I researched him, finding several comments along the lines of, “He virtually forced me to get involved in litigation against my employer, when I really didn’t want to.”
He agreed to speak with us, and I asked, “So tell me, how better off will the world be if this generous employer is sued for being honest with Karrie and showing her such kindness? Did you explain to her the emotional challenges of such litigation, or the consequences of her name in public records as someone who sues an employer?
“His response was to yell several four-letter words and hang up”.
“Karrie,” I said, “he just answered your question. Sign up for that class. I want to see just how much your writing has improved.”
“I will, Mr. Beaver,” she replied.