A common problem area for veterinary practice owners and managers is the screening and interviewing process, says Edward J. Guiducci, JD, American Veterinary Medical Law Association. Claims and lawsuits can arise from the words and conduct of a hiring veterinarian, manager or hiring team member toward prospective employees, Guiducci explained at the 2010 Western Veterinary Conference.
Employees or rejected applicants most often sue based on federal, state or local anti-discrimination laws, implied contracts allegedly created during the hiring process, or misrepresentations concerning the terms and conditions of employment. Given these risks, anyone who interviews applicants or otherwise participates in the hiring process should be trained to recognize what can and cannot properly be said to an applicant.
An example is where a veterinarian screens and interviews all job applicants for her veterinary practice. She has had a problem with former employees marrying and having children causing the employees to either quit or take excessive absences. As a result she now screens applicants by asking probing questions during his/her interview about the applicant’s (especially associate doctors) plans to marry and have children.
This is a clear case of inappropriate questioning of applicants by the practice. It is illegal to base any hiring or employment decision on a person’s: age; race; national origin; religion; gender; or handicap/disability. The practice is exposed to an EEOC or state labor board complaint and/or being sued for discrimination.
There are a variety of questions that must be avoided when interviewing a prospective employee. The questions should focus on knowledge, skills and abilities that relate to the job for which applicant is interviewing. Some of the questions to avoid are:
- Health issues: The ADA prohibits “fishing” for information about an applicant’s physical or mental condition. A practice can only inquire about the person’s ability to perform specific job-related functions.
- Age, except to ask if the applicant is over the age of 18.
- Race/national origin
- Marital status
- Number and/or ages of children
- Maiden name
- Childbearing, pregnancy and family obligations.
- Medical condition, state of health or prior illnesses.
- Physical or mental disability prior to offer for employment.
- Height or weight
- Prior workers compensation claims.
- Bankruptcies or garnishments
So what can the hiring team ask during an interview?
- Work experience. An interviewer can ask the applicant questions about the areas of responsibility of his or her previous job; what he or she likes best or least; what work is the easiest and most difficult; ask about a typical day; ask about his or her supervisory experience; ask how his or her work related to others; raises; promotions; awards; achievements; attendance; reason for leaving; career goals; veterinary specific experience; familiarity with certain equipment and instruments; and whether or not the associate doctor is subject to a non-competition agreement.
- Training, skills and knowledge. You can ask the applicant to describe a typical day in his or her job. You can ask the applicant what he or she considers the single most important idea or accomplishment s/he has contributed to in his/her present job. You can also pose a typical problem in the current job and inquire how the applicant would handle the situation.
- Personal attitudes. You can ask if the applicant prefers to work alone or with others or with minimal or direct supervision; career goals. You can ask the applicant to tell you about why he/she wants the job, his or her hobbies and interests.