Q: I was feeling pretty good about my job interview, until the interviewer asked me to identify my race. (A lot of people assume I’m Hispanic, because of my complexion and last name, but my dad’s Filipino and my mom’s Italian.) Is there any good reason she would ask about that? If I don’t get the job, what I can do?
– Hoping to be Hired
A: It’s not illegal to ask about race, it’s just not a great idea for employers to do this.
“My first question to the employer would be, ‘Why do you need this information and what are you going to do with it?’” commented EEOC Attorney David Offen-Brown. “Asking about race—or for that matter color, religion, national origin, sex or age for workers 40 years or older—puts that employer at risk of appearing to make hiring decisions based on what she found out. And that’s what may violate the law. There are some occasions that justify an employer asking certain questions at the interview: federal contractors may be required by law to track the race of applicants. But asking about disability is a flagrant interview no-no; it’s prohibited by the Americans with Disability Act of 1992.”
Discrimination at the time of hire can be hard to prove, but if you’ve gotten cues that indicate your rejection is due to your ethnicity and not your qualifications for the job, you can certainly file a charge with EEOC.
Q: In the last five years, our marketplace has dramatically changed, with rising numbers of Latinos and other immigrants. I’m convinced that our company needs to reflect that change and hire more folks from these growing populations to stay competitive. What can I do to increase diversity at my stores, without getting hit with claims of “reverse discrimination”?
– Stuck Between ‘If You Do’ and ‘If You Don’t’
Carson City, NV
A: You can always run job advertisements stating “Minorities and Women encouraged to apply,” and improve outreach to particular communities by posting in a Spanish-language newspaper, for example. It’s great to be aware of how things like word-of-mouth hiring can promote unconscious bias, limiting the hiring pool to friends and family of current employees who tend to be of the same race or national origin. But don’t make these your criteria for hiring.
According to a CareerBuilder.com survey, 75 percent of hiring managers say they have caught a lie on a candidate’s application.
(This article was originally published in the column Watercooler Counsel with Malinda Tuazon as a co-author. It has been included here with minor updates.)