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Veterinarian Technician February 2008 (Vol 29, No 2)

Management Matters: How to Avoid Asking Illegal Questions During an Interview

by Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR

    Author's Note: Even with more than 10 years' experience in interviewing and hiring support staff, I still find this process to be one of the most challenging aspects of managing a veterinary practice. During an interview, it is important to ask questions that will help determine whether a candidate would be a good fit for the practice. However, the practice should be aware that certain questions cannot legally be asked. This month's column focuses on the interview process from the legal standpoint. When management knows which questions are illegal to ask during an interview, the practice can focus on developing a system to identify individuals who will make great additions to the team.

    Many human resources (HR) tasks, such as interviewing, are guided largely by employment laws that are constantly changing. It is important that managers obtain information about specific laws and their application in the management of the veterinary practice. But it is just as important to keep­ up with the changing realm of HR. Laws change, and their applications change as discrimination cases go to court and establish case law precedents.

    During an interview, questions that could be considered discriminatory are prohibited. Knowing which questions are inappropriate to ask during the interview can help the practice avoid claims of discrimination. Below are examples of prohibited interview questions.

    Prohibited Questions

    What is your date of birth?

    During the interview, it is not legal to ask any age-related questions, including indirect questions such as "What year did you graduate from high school?" or "How old are your children?" After the candidate is hired, the hiring manager can ask the individual to provide proof that he or she is 18 years of age or older or can produce a work permit. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects job candidates from age discrimination, particularly those 40 years of age or older.

    Are you a US citizen?

    It is illegal to try to determine a candidate's national origin by asking questions regarding citizenship. For example, the manager cannot ask, "Of what country are you a citizen?" or "When did you acquire citizenship?" Similarly, the manager cannot ask any questions about race or ancestry. He or she also cannot require that the candidate produce naturalization papers or first papers (declarations of intention) during the hiring process. However, the candidate can be told that if he or she is hired, proof of legal authorization to work in the United States must be provided. After being hired, the individual will be required to complete an I-9 form and provide documents that verify his or her identity and employment eligibility.

    Have you ever been in the military?

    Although the hiring manager can ask the candidate about job-related military experience or training, he or she cannot ask about the candidate's military status or type of discharge from military service (e.g., whether the discharge was honorable) because this information is not pertinent to the performance of the job at the practice.

    Have you ever been arrested?

    The hiring manager cannot ask whether a candidate has been arrested because an arrest is not an indication of guilt. However, he or she can ask, "Have you ever been convicted of a crime? If so, provide details." The manager must then consider the person's answer before automatically discounting him or her as a potential candidate. Deciding to not hire an individual based on whether he or she has been convicted of a crime is discriminatory; for more information on this topic, consult your state laws. In general, if there is a direct relationship between the nature of the conviction and the job to be performed or the environment of the workplace, then it is legal to not consider the applicant as a potential candidate. However, the manager should seek advice from the practice's attorney.

    Do you wish to be addressed as Mrs. or Ms.?

    The manager cannot ask any question that leads to a discussion of marital status, including both direct questions ("Are you married?") and indirect questions ("Would your husband need health insurance coverage?"). Marital status is not relevant to a candidate's ability to perform a job.

    Have you ever had a problem with drugs or alcohol?

    The manager cannot ask questions about drug or alcohol abuse because a current or past drug or alcohol problem is considered a disability to the same extent that physical or mental conditions are classified as disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against any person with a disability. Even if a candidate has an obvious health problem, the manager cannot question the candidate about the condition. What the manager can and should do, however, is present the job description to the candidate — along with an outline of the physical requirements of the job — and ask whether he or she can perform all the tasks required, with or without reasonable accommodation.

    Are you a member of any organizations, and if so, which ones?

    Although the manager can ask candidates to indicate whether they are members of any organization that they believe may be pertinent to job experience, such as veterinary or management organizations, he or she cannot ask candidates to name all organizations with which they are affiliated because confidential information, such as religious or political affiliations, could be revealed.


    When hiring staff, managers must know which questions are appropriate to ask during an interview and which questions can get the practice into legal trouble. It is difficult enough for a practice to find qualified candidates without having to worry about whether its interview process is legally sound. When managers know which questions they can and cannot ask, they are able to focus their energy on identifying candidates who could become exceptional new team members.

    NEXT: On the Cover: Scaling New Heights in Dentistry — A Talk with Vickie Byard, CVT, VTS (Dentistry)


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