Interviewee: James Crumlin
Bone, McAllester, Norton
Nashville, TN

As hiring gradually picks up, BV practices could benefit from a reminder about the potential liability that goes along with discriminatory interview questions.  With a little bit of forethought, it’s not that hard to avoid those interviewing problems you don’t need.

To help with that, we reached out to James Crumlin, a Partner in the firm of Bone, McAllester, Norton, in Nashville.  Employment law is a specialty area of his.

Borrowman: From time to time, people will joke with each other about “those questions you can’t ask.”  Seriously, though, how did we end up here?

Crumlin: Fundamentally, it’s a question of fairness.  Laws were enacted so that everyone would have an even playing field when it comes to getting a job.

Borrowman: What’s a common misconception employers have about the kinds of questions they can and can’t include in an interview?

Crumlin: That’s a good question.  One of the most problematic areas is personal questions.  When you start asking personal questions, it’s easier to blur the line between what’s acceptable and what’s not.  When your interviewee starts telling personal things, there’s an inclination to ask a follow-up question that would not be permitted.

For example, you might ask, “What were the job duties at the last job?”  And the answer could be, “Well, I did okay with A, B, and C.  But, I had some difficulty with D because of family issues.”  It’s only human to want to follow-up with a question about what’s going on at home.  But, that’s not a good question.

Alternatively, you could ask, “Tell me how you would perform the functions of the job you are currently interviewing for.”  Keep the focus on the responsibilities of the job you’re interviewing for, now, and how that person would perform those duties and responsibilities.

Borrowman: Is there a rule-of-thumb that can help keep an employer out of trouble?

Crumlin: The best rule-of-thumb is to develop questions related to the job.  Make sure everything you ask has to do with the particular skill set the job requires.  You can’t ask whether a candidate has children, or plans to have more, etc.

Borrowman: Let’s say you’re a conscientious employer who carefully follows the rules. Is there some value to tooting you horn about this, maybe including non-discrimination in hiring language in an employee handbook of some kind?

Crumlin: You definitely want to have the fact that you’re an equal opportunity employer in a handbook or whatever policy manual you might have.  It’s also good to include that you’re an equal opportunity employer anytime you’re advertising to fill a position.

Borrowman: Where else can you go for some basic information?

Crumlin: You can always check the EEOC website.  The American Bar Association website also has good information.  There are lots of choices when it comes to training and seminars on employment law and recruiting techniques.  They’re easy to find and worth the time.

You don’t want to create a situation that puts your business at risk by having someone interviewing candidates for a particular job who doesn’t have the skill to conduct those interviews and be confident they’re asking the right questions.

James Crumlin Jr.
John Borrowman