Privacy issues have attracted a great deal of concern recently, especially the frequency of inappropriate questions in employment interviews.
Employers say they are concerned about what their representatives ask job applicants, particularly women. But that concern doesn't always stop the practice of asking illegal questions. Questions that are taboo include those about the size of your family, future family size, child-care responsibilities and job mobility.
Businesses are wise to be worried because they may be subject to lawsuits for discrimination in hiring. Delta Air Lines, for example, is being sued by the New York City Human Rights Commission. According to the Wall Street Journal, 62 job applicants claim Delta asked about sexual preferences, birth control and even abortions. Delta insists it never asked illegal questions and doesn't discriminate.
Employees also are very sensitive to questions they deem inappropriate to the hiring process. In these tough economic times, job-seekers rightfully worry that if they don't answer all questions, including discriminatory ones, they won't get the job they so desperately need.
The federal government has made it clear that dubious job interview queries may violate Title 7 of the U.S. Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, race, religion or national origin.
But what is not clear is how to tactfully respond to illegal questions.
The following are some typical questions and how they might be answered if employers didn't have all the cookies -- which, unfortunately, they do:
Personnel Interviewer: Tell me, Ms. Jones, does the Ms. in your name stand for Miss or Mrs.?
Ms. Jones: I really am glad you asked me that question because I'm happy to tell you. It's really not Miss or Mrs., it's actually Doctor. I like to use the title of Dr. because that way no one knows your gender or if you're married or single, and everyone assumes you are very rich.
Personnel Interviewer: How interesting. Now, if I may, I'd like to know about your family responsibilities.
Ms. Jones: Oh, I am extremely responsible and have worked all my adult life.
Personnel Interviewer: Well, that's not quite what I meant. Who, for instance, does the housework and things like that?
Ms. Jones: In my house, the rule is that everyone must take care of himself. And let me emphasize the "him" part of himself!
Personnel Interviewer: Let me be more direct: Are you married, do you have children and what do you do about child care?
Ms. Jones: I know you're concerned that a husband, children and baby-sitters might cause problems that might make it difficult for me to perform the job you're interviewing me for. But I promise you, right here and now, my family definitely is not allowed to come to the office and interrupt my work constantly like they do at home.
Personnel Interviewer: And that brings me to another question. Do you plan to have children in the future? Do you practice birth control?
Ms. Jones: You sound just like my gynecologist! If I do decide to have children in the future, I will give you at least eight months warning, so don't worry about it. And I really appreciate your concern about the birth control pill. I've heard a lot about how it could have adverse side effects and that it can cause dark spots on your face and hands or maybe even cancer. That's worrisome, and it's sweet of you to warn me about it.
Personnel Interviewer: Perhaps I should be more direct with you. Your credentials look fine, but you are in your prime childbearing years and we don't want to spend a lot of money training you only to find you are going to leave to follow your husband or to have babies. Can you reassure me about this?
Ms. Jones: Absolutely! Don't worry about a thing. I know you must be ready to hire me, because most personnel interviewers don't ask any of those questions until after you are on the payroll. Otherwise, it's illegal. But since I probably already have this job, let me tell you quite honestly that you will never lose any money hiring me. In fact, I think it's one of the best investments your company can make, exactly what it would be if you hired a man in his prime childbearing years who may leave to follow his wife or sometimes have to stay home with his children.
Personnel Interviewer: You know something, I like your spunk! You are very bright and creative. This company can use more people like you. Would you like to work here?
Ms. Jones: Thank you for saying such nice things, but now, let me ask you a question: Who would ever want to work for a company that lets its representative -- you -- ask such Neanderthal questions? Here's my direct answer: This is one woman of child-bearing age who will look elsewhere for a job.