October 10, 2013

Employers, Some things are None of Your Business

unhappy woman with stay away gestureI’m aware that, when sourcing top talent, companies like to do a thorough background check. They like to look for common things like criminal history, unemployment gaps, behavioral problems, and the position-related areas, such as skills and work experience.

But what about when a company crosses the line of seeking background information to delving into personal information and privacy?

I read an article today about a job seeker’s “traumatic” experience while applying to work at Chevron. She began filling out a seven-page medical history form, only to be shocked at the detailed, personal, and what could be considered as invading privacy, questions.

Apparently, among other things, the medical history form asked how many “stillbirths” an applicant has had.

The form asked whether the applicant had ever been pregnant, and if so, how many times; how many abortions and stillborn children they have had; how many “normal” children were born and if they had any birth defects.

The form asked for the month/year of each pregnancy and the mother’s age at the end of each pregnancy; if the applicant had ever tried to conceive for at least 12 months without success; if the applicant or his/her spouse ever had an operation resulting in sterilization; and whether or not the applicant has (or has had) a sexually transmitted disease.

Then, there’s a section of the form that says “For women only,” where it asks applicants to fill out ALL answers (underline ALL). The section asks about any pain, lumps or discharge in/from the breasts; if the woman is currently incapable of having children; whether or not the woman is currently pregnant; and the dates of her last menstrual period.

The poor job seeker who had to sift through these questions said:

It was a traumatic experience filling out that form and I’m not joking,” Rae said.

“I can only imagine that if someone had a stillborn, if someone has a trigger, or was going through an experience like they were asking, these questions are entirely insensitive and offensive.

“At that point, how is it their f—–g business?”

She clearly wasn’t very happy with this part of the hiring process, and can you blame her? Imagine, as a woman, you having to fill out an application and state whether or not you can have children (which may be a very painful thing to do), or if you have/have had a STD. Then handing over the application for, most likely, a male hiring manager to skim through and discover your personal health-related information.

Chevron said the forms were lawful and “guided by industry standards to ensure staff are safe and fit to work.”

“Medical information, including an individual’s medical history, is solely used by authorised medical professionals and any questions relating to reproductive history are explicitly voluntary and this is lawful.

“Candidates who meet the requirements of a position are not discriminated based on medical history.”

The story also said that the application states that filling out the sections was optional, but would be would be appreciated. This is intimidating to job seekers. Here you have an application that can easily make candidates (especially women) very uncomfortable. You say it’s “optional” yet job seekers will feel pressured to fill out the entire form thinking he/she may suffer consequences for leaving blanks.

Then, the job seekers (especially women), may feel like revealing their medical history will put them at a disadvantage, especially pregnant women. I don’t know the nature of the work this woman applied for, but I can assume the company “assuring” her candidates aren’t discriminated against based on medical history was not very comforting. I mean, we all know that because discrimination is illegal companies would never think of doing such a thing during the hiring and selection process, right?

I’ve never applied for a job where I’ve had to disclose so much personal information, and I can imagine how this would deter job seekers from a company. Employers, yes you need to know a candidate’s background, but that’s to an extent. Some things are none of your business when it comes to a candidate’s personal life.

I’d advise companies to be cautious about the background information they choose to request. You don’t want to end up with a lawsuit on your hands because you pried your way into an applicant’s medical history; made the person feel uncomfortable; didn’t end up hiring him/her; and wind up with a discriminatory accusation.

And aside from the potential legal risks, think about your applicants. They are human beings. Would you feel comfortable if you were trying to impress an employer and it asked you detailed questions about your medical history and sexual lifestyle?

Read more in Hiring Process

Marks’ stories have also been published in a variety of newspaper, magazine and online formats including The Arizona Republic, The Daily Herald, Arizona Foothills Magazine and various classroom magazines of Scholastic Inc. Service is her passion, writing is her platform and uplifting and inspiring the community is her purpose. Marks received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication from Arizona State University.
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