Take care in interviewing disabled job applicants

On one hand, you want to be a "good guy" and do the "right thing." On the other hand, you have an operation to run. Work has to get done properly and on time. Productivity standards must be maintained.
By Raymond Dreyfack November 1, 1998

On one hand, you want to be a “good guy” and do the “right thing.” On the other hand, you have an operation to run. Work has to get done properly and on time. Productivity standards must be maintained. So what’s a manager to do?

Above all, combine care with compassion, as Engineering Project Supervisor Harry Rose learned the hard way. Studying Bill Daly’s job application form, Rose reached two conclusions: 1. The applicant was well qualified for the maintenance planner’s job for which he had applied. 2. Judging from a variety of other factors, he was probably gay. Which, Rose believed, shouldn’t be a factor in the employment decision. Qualified was qualified.

What concerned the supervisor was the possibility that Daly might have AIDS, a disease that is more prevalent in the gay community. He thought Daly didn’t look healthy. But looks can be deceiving, and Rose wasn’t a medical expert.

So we’re back to the what-to-do question, Rose thought. He couldn’t very well ask Daly if he was gay. And it would be discriminatory to come right out and ask if he had AIDS. On the other hand, Rose thought, maybe he could get around it by asking the applicant what prescription drugs he was currently using. Daly reacted to the query with anger and indignation.

“That question violates the Equal Opportunity Commission guidelines. I could sue you for that. In fact, I think I will.”

Rose was stunned by Daly’s reply and didn’t know quite how to respond.

Question : What do you think? Did the applicant have a right to make the threat?

Walker’s verdict: “Yes, he did,” Plant Engineer Tom Walker told Rose when he asked him the question. “You can’t be too careful when interviewing job applicants with a real or suspected disability. It’s acceptable to inquire into a person’s ability to handle a job or describe how he would perform it. But inquiry into the state of his health, subtle or not, can be tricky. Your question about drugs is a good example. It doesn’t pass muster. When in doubt, your best course is to consult the personnel or legal department.”