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  1. Brous, Edie A. MPH, MS, JD, RN


Employers and job applicants should know what can-and can't-be asked.


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Whether you're the interviewer or the job seeker, you should know that laws that prohibit employment discrimination also apply to the interview process. Discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sex, age, disability, religion, or pregnancy is illegal under federal law. State and local laws may also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.


Because most nurses are women, it's particularly important for them and their employers to be aware of the laws that pertain to sex discrimination. In addition, the average age of RNs continues to increase. It was 46.8 years in 2004, up from 45.2 in 2000 and 44.3 in 1996.1 So, knowledge of laws that apply to disabled and older workers is also critical. The following are some job-interview dos and don'ts for employers and applicants.





* ask about an applicant's motivation for seeking the position and her or his qualifications, interests, and personality.


* ask about former job responsibilities.


* discuss your institution's mission statement or philosophy to see if the applicant supports it.


* explain the job's requirements and expectations, as well as its scheduling requirements.


* use objective criteria in assessing applicants, and ask the same questions of all, regardless of age or sex.


* confine questions to those related to the ability of the applicant to perform job-related functions.





* ask questions related to sexual orientation, marital status, child care obligations, possibility of pregnancy, or birth control practices. Asking such questions of female applicants violates Title VII provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Similarly, male applicants cannot be discouraged from working on certain units, such as obstetrics. Seemingly innocent questions such as "How old are your children?" "Will your husband watch your child if you have to work overtime?" and "How long do you plan to stay with us if you are offered the position?" can be construed as discriminatory and cost the employer dearly in legal fees, bad publicity, and lost productivity; defending against discrimination cases, as well as the investigations themselves, are incredibly time-consuming.


* suggest that an older candidate is overqualified or that you are seeking someone with a more recent education. "Overqualified" does not mean "unqualified" and can be interpreted as age discrimination. The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating on the basis of age, so suggesting that a candidate is too old can compromise an institution's participation in Medicare.


* ask about disabilities. This is expressly prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: "A covered entity shall not [horizontal ellipsis] make inquiries of a job applicant as to whether such applicant is an individual with a disability or as to the nature or severity of such disability."


* ask about labor union activities, which is barred by the National Labor Relations Act. Discussion of union activities can be construed as an unfair labor practice: "It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer [horizontal ellipsis] to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights [to organization, collective bargaining, etc.] [horizontal ellipsis] by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure of employment or any term or condition of employment to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization."


* ask about citizenship, military discharge status, or membership in nonprofessional organizations. Those questions are prohibited by federal law.






* dress professionally for your interview. Workplace dress codes are legal, and as an employee you would be acting as an agent of your employer. Present yourself in a manner that is consistent with the impression the institution wishes to convey.


* familiarize yourself with your state's Nurse Practice Act before the interview. Ensure that you are qualified for the position you're applying for, according to the job's scope of practice as defined in your state's act. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing's Web site will direct you to the nursing board in your state or territory; see http://www.ncsbn.org and click on Boards of Nursing, then on Contacts.


* be forthright about previous job terminations or criminal convictions. While questions about arrest history are illegal, questions regarding criminal convictions are allowed. Employers have the right, and in some cases the obligation, to check references and run criminal background checks on prospective employees.


* agree to drug testing. Employers are legally allowed to require this. They can also ask about smoking.


* answer illegal questions with information the employer needs to assess your ability to do the job. For instance, if you are asked about your religion, reply that if you are hired, you will act in a manner that is in accordance with the institution's mission: "I understand that this is a Catholic facility, and I am able to support its mission statement." If you are asked about your child care responsibilities, say, "My attendance record speaks for itself, and my previous employers have always described me as reliable." While these moments may be awkward, they will indicate to the interviewer that although she or he has asked an illegal question, you are willing to answer in a way that provides them with relevant information but avoids confrontation. Pointing out that a question is illegal is a judgment call. It can create an adversarial relationship with someone who will decide whether to give you a job; on the other hand, the person's response can help you gauge what working with him or her would be like.





* exaggerate your skills, fabricate education or experience, or provide false information. Misleading a potential employer will harm you in the long run. Even if you are offered the position, you can be terminated for misrepresentations made when you were an applicant. And some misrepresentations-such as lying about your education or experience-may rise to the level of professional misconduct, which can result in fines, suspension or loss of license, and other punishments.


* respond to open-ended questions by providing information the employer is not entitled to have. The standard opener, "Tell me about yourself," may lead you into a trap. You do not have to, nor should you, answer with information about your age, personal life, family, or political or religious activities.


* respond to clinical hypothetical scenarios in a manner that compromises a patient's privacy rights.



The goal of an interview is to determine if a particular applicant is a good fit for a particular job. This can be done in a manner that does not venture into unlawful territory.



General information: http://employment-law.freeadvice.com


U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: http://www.eeoc.gov


U.S. Department of Labor: http://www.dol.gov


National Labor Relations Board: http://www.nlrb.gov


National Labor Relations Act: http://www.nlrb.gov/nlrb/legal/manuals/rules/act.pdf


Age Discrimination Act of 1975: http://www.dol.gov/oasam/regs/statutes/age_act.htm


Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII: http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/laws/majorlaw/civilr19.htm


Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: http://www.ada.gov/pubs/ada.htm




1. The registered nurse population: findings from the March 2004 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration. ftp://ftp.hrsa.gov/bhpr/workforce/0306rnss.pdf. [Context Link]