No, it isn’t OK. Personal matters are just that – personal. If you’re in the process of hiring a female, for example, can you ask if she’s planning to have a family someday? No! Can you ask her about her marital status or if she has any plans to marry? No! Can you ask any candidate about his or her overall health? No! All three of those questions fall under the protection of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.
How people live their lives and what they do on their own time are none of a prospective employer’s business – unless how they live their lives or what they do on their own time will adversely affect their ability to do the job. An employer asking a candidate for employment about any of the issues noted above is tantamount to asking for a federal discrimination lawsuit to be filed.
While it may seem perfectly natural for an employer not to want to hire someone who’s going to miss a lot of work because of a pre-existing illness or a female who’s going to be out on maternity leave, doing so violates federal law. About all an employer can ask a reference is a question like, “Are you aware of any personal problems that could affect so-and-so’s ability to do the job for which he or she is being considered?” If the answer is “yes,” the employer will have to decide if the problem, whatever it happens to be, is significant enough to disqualify the candidate from further consideration for the job to be filled. A key element in that decision will be whether or not the employer can make a “reasonable accommodation” that will make it possible for the candidate to do the job. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission describes “reasonable accommodation” as follows:
“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires an employer with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities, unless it would cause undue hardship. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way a job is performed that enables a person with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. There are three categories of reasonable accommodations:
– Changes to a job application process;
– Changes to the work environment, or to the way a job is usually done;
– Changes that enable an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment (such as access to training).”