Weekly HR News- Hiring Practices - What you can and can't ask regarding health and physical condition

Weekly HR News - Hiring Practices

Interview Questions – What you can and can’t ask in regards to health and physical abilities!

Part 6 of 7

The job interview is a great way to find out if an applicant is the right person for the job.  It is also an opportunity for the city to find its way into a lawsuit if the wrong questions are asked.  In this series of articles, we will take a look at what questions will get you in hot water and what questions will get you the answers that you need to know!

Health and Physical Abilities

Your employees' health and abilities may be essential to getting the job done, but it's important to avoid assumptions and discrimination. Stick to these questions in order to avoid embarrassment and legal troubles.

  1. What you can't ask: Do you smoke or drink?

As an employer, you probably want to avoid someone who has a drinking problem or will take multiple smoke breaks throughout the day. It's even a concern for insurance. However, alcoholism can be considered a disability under the ADA and don’t forget that in Kentucky smokers as well as nonsmokers are a protected class that cannot be discriminated against.

What to ask instead: In the past, have you been disciplined for violating employer policies forbidding the use of alcohol or tobacco products?

  1. What you can't ask: How much do you weigh?

This highly personal question is embarrassing for most and is not necessarily relevant to a candidate's ability to do even a physical-labor job. Avoid making assumptions, and ask about abilities directly.

What to ask instead: Are you able to lift boxes weighing up to 50 pounds?  Just be sure that whatever you ask about it is an essential function of the position contained in the job description.

  1. What you can't ask: How many sick days did you take last year?

No one wants a flaky employee, but even the most dedicated workers get sick every now and then. Take a look at missed days as a whole to measure the candidate's commitment.

What to ask instead: How many unscheduled days of work did you miss last year?

  1. What you can't ask: Do you have any disabilities?

Disabilities, whether they're physical or mental, may affect a candidate's ability to do the job, but it's critical that you avoid asking about them. Rather, find out if the applicant can handle doing what's required.

What to ask instead: Are you able to perform the specific duties of this position as described within the job description?

  1. What you can't ask: Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations?

Again, gauging commitment is important, but illness isn't something that most people can help. The answer here is to make sure that the candidate can perform the job while avoiding questions about his or her physical abilities.

What to ask instead: Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodations?

Next week we will look at issues in regards to various miscellaneous issues that haven’t been covered in the previous articles.  For a complete list of interview questions, contact Andrea Shindlebower with the KLC Legal Department.