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#Me Too And Questions To Avoid When Interviewing Staff

The #MeToo movement focused on eliminating sexual misconduct in the workplace; however, there is some fear that a backlash is occurring that may increase discrimination against women.

Researchers at The University of Houston surveyed men and women in 2018 about harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and then asked the same questions to a new group in 2019. The researchers wanted to gauge expected change, versus actual change, following the #MeToo media focus.

First, the survey found that sexual harassment was common (63 percent of female respondents had been harassed; 33 percent more than once). It also revealed that most men understand what constitutes sexual harassment and actually take an even stricter view of harassing behaviors than do women.

Among respondents to the 2018 survey, 74 percent of women were more willing to speak out against harassment, and 77 percent of men said they would be more careful about potentially inappropriate behavior.

However, the researchers also discovered some negative behaviors, particularly as to hiring and interacting with women perceived as attractive. More than 10 percent of men and women in 2018, and 19 percent of men in 2019, said they would be less willing than previously to hire attractive women. In addition, nearly 33 percent of men who responded in 2018, and 27 percent in 2019, said they would avoid one-on-one meetings with female colleagues.

Finally, in 2018, 22 percent of men and 44 percent of women predicted that men would be more likely to exclude women from social interactions. In 2019, 21 percent of men said that they were reluctant to hire women for jobs that required business travel or other close interactions with men. "The #MeToo Backlash" (Sept. - Oct. 2019).

Commentary and Checklist

It would be improper for a family employer to ask questions that would disqualify men or women or seem to treat them differently. For example, to ask a prospective male staff member how they view working with women would be considered odd at least and discrimination at worst.

In general, family employers should avoid questions regarding the following matters when interviewing staff: race; color; sex or sexual orientation; gender identity or preference; pregnancy; religion; national origin; birthplace; ethnicity; age; disability; or marital/family/military status.

Refrain, for example, from asking questions, that would allow you to determine a person's age, such as "when did you graduate from high school?" Asking if the candidate has children or plans to have children could lead to charges of gender discrimination. Asking if the applicant has a girlfriend or boyfriend could feel like sexual harassment.

If an interviewee brings up these topics, simply continue with the interview, and avoid asking questions to elicit additional information. The exception to this would be in the area of disability or religion. If the applicant discloses the need for a reasonable accommodation in these areas, that requires further discussion.

Here are some additional tips that family employers can follow to help prevent discrimination when hiring:

  • Create objective job descriptions that focus on specific skills needed for the position. Be clear about both the physical, mental, social, and environmental requirements for the position.
  • Review existing hiring practices and eliminate any practice that is meant to exclude a member of a protected category.
  • Review job recruitment policies and procedures to make sure job openings are marketed to the entire community.
  • Review your application to make sure that it does not ask any potentially discriminatory questions or elicit information that could be used to argue the employer committed discrimination.
  • Train supervisors and other hiring personnel on state and federal laws surrounding discrimination and provide them with instruction for interviewing.
  • Make sure you and your hiring managers know how to address candidates' requests for reasonable accommodation during the hiring process.
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