When an Interviewer Crosses the Line

By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, November 23, 2006 6:00 AM

I am actively seeking new employment and have been on several interviews. However, a recent one has left me dumbfounded. I was asked several times about my marital and parental status. I feel comfortable with how I responded, but would like to write a note thanking the company for its time and consideration, while at the same time mentioning the legal liability that exists when these types of questions are asked. How should I handle this?

I commend you for your instinct to educate, rather than threaten, this employer. But before I go any further, I also want to remind you that you would be well within your rights and reason to report this conduct to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. What you describe is outrageous and -- call me jaded -- but I don't share your optimism that the ultimate hiring decision in this case was based upon relevant professional criteria.

That said, another option is to write a diplomatically worded note to the owner or human resources officer (although many small companies do not have an HR department) explaining that you were asked what you understand to be legally inappropriate questions. The language that you used in your note to me already contains much of what you would probably want to say. In the letter to the company, I would go further and explain which laws were potentially violated and refer the employer to resources that offer more information.

Backing up to the time of your interview, you could have responded to the question with a question of your own: "I am confused. Why is the company interested in my marital/parental status?" I doubt that the interviewer would have had an intelligent answer to the question, and it likely would have prompted him or her to back away from the subject. It might make the interviewer uncomfortable, but it is that very sense of discomfort that has the potential to put an end to this offensive approach.

Lily Garcia is director of human resources for Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive. She has been offering employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question for consideration, e-mail: HRAdvice@washingtonpost.com.

Disclaimer: How to Deal is not meant to be a replacement for actual legal advice. Please contact your HR representative for issues that pertain to your organization. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity.

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