Frustrated job applicant wonders about her rights

MANAGEMENTFebruary 12, 2012 

Q: What rights do job applicants have?

I've applied for dozens of jobs in the last several weeks and hate how employers treat job-seekers.

Because I work full time and haven't found any employers willing to interview me after 5, I schedule interviews on my lunch hours. More than half the interviewers kept me waiting so long it made me late back to work.

Once, after waiting 45 minutes, I told the receptionist I'd have to reschedule. When I called shortly after 1 to reschedule, I was told her boss was ticked I'd left and said I was too unreliable to "waste his time" interviewing.

And what do I do about the employers who ask me inappropriate, personal questions like, "Are you planning on getting pregnant?" and "Do you have child care for your children when they're sick?"

I know these questions are illegal but if I don't answer them I might tick off the interviewer and lose out on a job.

It feels especially unfair when I'm asked, "What salary do you want?" but if I ask, "What's the salary?" the interviewer acts put off or says, "We'll talk salary with the applicants we make an offer to."

The worst was this morning when the interviewer said their company had a zero tolerance for drugs policy and asked if I had a problem with that. I said "no" and he told me the next step was a "pre-hire" urine test. I feel like the interviewer made the assumption I used drugs. Isn't it a privacy invasion to test for drugs without a reason? Do applicants have any rights?

A. While the interviewing process appears one-sided with employers appearing to have all the rights, employers need well-qualified employees. When an interviewer treats you poorly before hire, ask yourself, "Do I want to work for this employer?" If not and the employer offers you a job, exercise your No. 1 right and turn it down.

Employers don't have the right to ask you questions that create illegal discrimination. Questions about child-care arrangements and pregnancy violate Alaska law. You can give an answer or choose not to. You can additionally choose to report the employer to the state or city human rights commission.

Although employers want to know if they can afford you before making an offer, many employers can't answer the salary question. Some haven't yet decided what salary to offer until they see who applies and the salaries they expect. Other employers fear applicants may feel slighted if they receive a lower than top-of-the-range offer. Personally, I think applicants deserve to know the salary range and the employer's reasons for starting an applicant at the lower end of the range.

When the interviewer asked you to take the drug test, it meant you'd passed the first round of interviewing and your prospective employer was willing to pay an approximate $44 charge to see if you'd make it to the next phase of their hiring process. Employers who use pre-hire drug tests generally conduct them on every applicant in a job category to remove subjectivity from the testing process. Employers who have business or safety reasons legally schedule drug tests without violating privacy rights. In December 2003, West Virginia's Supreme Court ruled in favor of Wal-Mart's right to conduct pre-employment drug tests on applicants. According to the court ruling, given that employers routinely conduct reference checks and other intrusive pre-employment inquiries on applicants, job candidates have a lowered expectation of privacy during the job screening process.

Finally, if you're a great employee, realize you ultimately hold as many or more cards as the employers potentially offering you a job. If they don't treat you right during the interview process and you go to work for another employer -- they lose.


Management/employee trainer and the owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc., Dr. Lynne Curry provides columns to newspapers in multiple states. For questions, Curry can be reached at www.thegrowthcompany.com.

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