Social Question

TrenchantWit's avatar

Is this a fair pre-employment question?

Asked by TrenchantWit (285points) October 28th, 2009

Ok, so yesterday I went on a final interview with a company that sells products to the plumbing industry. I’ve had 3 other interviews and a two day ride along with another salesman with in the last two months to see the logistics on how my job would be handled day to day. I am 29 years old and a single father that has joint custody with my 4 year old daughter. The guy I interviewed with at the end of the 2 hour interview asked me to write up “something” regarding how being a single father won’t affect my work schedule. I asked him what form would he like this request in, my calender, a essay? He replied don’t just email me your calender and a paragraph. Right now I have my daughter every other weekend and every Wednesday. It is making me question if I want to take this job, while it would be a great opportunity for me, I feel as if this initial request is asking too much, if I should have to do this shouldn’t every parent in the work place be requested to do this. Is this a fair pre-employment request? How should I respond? I would really like some advice from the fluther community.

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54 Answers

RedPowerLady's avatar

Could someone answer if this is even within the employer’s legal rights?

JLeslie's avatar

This request I’m pretty sure is illegal. He cannot legally even ask you if you are married or have children. I will ask my husband for you and get back, he is HR.

sevenfourteen's avatar

I agree, you shouldn’t be asked something like this. This is the same reason why it’s illegal to choose not to hire people who are within the age to start a family (a company can’t say they won’t hire a qualified female because she could get pregnant and that costs them money when she goes on maturnity or family leave)

Val123's avatar

@RedPowerLady Yeah, I’m thinking that may not be legal. And if they don’t hire you on the grounds that you have a child to take care of, that would be discrimination. All of which takes bucks to lawyers to do anything about. I would seriously question whether I’d want to work there too. This is the kind of crap so many single moms face today.

gussnarp's avatar

I’m willing to bet it is legal, even though I don’t think it should be. Really, how can you say having a child under any circumstances won’t affect your work schedule? How can you say falling off a chair while changing a light bulb tomorrow won’t affect your work schedule? Or getting the flu? This is entirely inane. I would write: I have a child. Under normal circumstances this will not affect my work schedule. In emergencies it will. I cannot control this any more than you can control whether you will get the flu tomorrow. Take it or leave it.

But then, I wouldn’t want a job with employers with that attitude. My employers and co-workers mostly have kids, and we all take some time occasionally to deal with child care issues. If I couldn’t do that, I’d have to find another job. You could always suck up for now and then quit later if it becomes a problem. Depends how badly you need the job.

gussnarp's avatar

The notion of suing or approaching this in an antagonistic manner is not going to work. If you were to go to them and say “you can’t legally ask me a question like that” they are going to say, “Tough luck. Next applicant?” Good luck with the discrimination suit you can’t afford while you are unemployed. You can be tough if you don’t care if you get the job, otherwise you’re going to have to go along to get along, or something like that.

Val123's avatar

@gussnarp True that. Even if they did something illegal, they know that most people don’t have thousands of dollars to pursue it, so they won’t.

gussnarp's avatar

@Val123 Sad reality, isn’t it?

augustlan's avatar

I’m betting it’s illegal, too. Practically speaking, that doesn’t matter… I mean, what are you going to do about it? If you really need the job, suck it up and write the “under normal circumstances…” email suggested above without the snark at the end, obviously :P, take the damn job, and keep looking. Leave as soon as you find another job. I hope you find one quickly!

Val123's avatar

@gussnarp Yep. Justice is only available to those who can pay for it. Single mothers lose primary custody of the kids for no reason other than they can’t afford to hire an attorney to represent them, and dad can. AND then the moms get ordered to pay child support to the dad who is making $40,000 a year at some laborer job, while Mom is trying to hold down the fort as a waitress.

RedPowerLady's avatar

Here is the thing. It is illegal. I just looked it up. If you are not willing to address the issue that it is illegal now then you should probably turn down the job offer unless you are desperate for work. I say that because if he is asking this now there will likely be similar instances in the future. You have to be able to deal with them when they come up or you will be miserable and be discriminated against.

Perhaps you could choose to answer the intent of the question instead of the question itself. Get someone to write you a rec. letter that specifically says you always come to work on time and don’t often miss days of work. (but nothing about you being a single parent). You may also want to add in that although you are aware this question isn’t technically “legal” you think he is a good guy and understand why he asked it so here is your “proof” that he wanted. By doing so he will know, for future reference, that you are aware of what is appropriate and what is not but you are still giving him what he wants and respecting him as the “boss”.

Val123's avatar

@RedPowerLady Nice!
But…I’m kind of wondering why the issue of kids was even brought up in the first place? Did you initiate it trenchchant? If so he may have seen that as a flag that you intend to put your kids ahead of your work—which is how it SHOULD be, IMO, but you can’t let them know that.
Or did HE bring it up? In which case I’d have qualms about working for someone like that.

CMaz's avatar

Sounds like a douchbag to me.

Not what I would ask someone that I want to hire.
That is a jump through the hoop question. How obedient of a dog are you.

Sorry, that is how I see it.

TrenchantWit's avatar

I found out that he called a previous employer of mine that offered the information that sometimes i would leave early and arrive late, in which that employer and I had made a deal prior to employment that i had certain days to arrive a hour later one day a week and leave early every other week. I have had a flawless work record until this last employer which ended on bad terms.
thank you gussnarp for the lines!

Here’s my response

____,

I have thought long and hard about what I should write up regarding the situation with my daughter and I’ve come to the conclusion that there is nothing to write to you that i haven’t already spoken with you about. I feel that regardless of me being a single parent, I will be able to do my job just like any other father or mother within your company that is in a standard marriage. Under normal circumstances this will not affect my work schedule. In emergencies it will. I cannot control this any more than you can control whether you will get the flu tomorrow. At my past employer, we had made a deal prior to employment that I would have to leave early to pick up my daughter and that I would have to go in late a few times a month which they had worked along with me. For this position with (name of company), I told you that I will take all measures so that this does not become a problem, working for the local plumbing company and working for a corporate business are two different machines. In the plumbing field I was one of ten technicians that were available for work. If one gear was down, there was nine others to replace it. In this field I completely understand that that I will be a lone gear in a large territory and I am ready for that responsibility. I’m sure you will understand my position on this situation and judge it accordingly.

Thank You,
______

CMaz's avatar

“I found out that he called a previous employer of mine that offered the information that sometimes i would leave early and arrive late”

That is a violation of your rights. Previous employers can not give out any information except that you worked there.

Val123's avatar

@TrenchantWit I don’t know that I’d put “I cannot control this any more than you can control whether you will get the flu tomorrow.” because it strikes me as a bit sarcastic and antagonistic….

@chazmaz That’s right. Another flag. The only thing a previous employer can say is “Yes I’d rehire him” or “No I wouldn’t”

RedPowerLady's avatar

@ChazMaz What about phone recommendations? I don’t think it is a violation of rights if they were listed as a reference. In fact I’m sure it’s not as I was on several professional hiring committees and we had to reference check. I never did it, the head of the committee did. But I’ve also had my former boss, with my permission, call a job candidate and talk me up.

TrenchantWit's avatar

I debated throwing that in there, i feel it makes my point, while on the interview he really pressed the issue that I am a single father. It’s not like we lightly spoke about it. Plus he underbid me on what I knew the position was worth, to which I quickly expressed my value of worth. The guy I rode along with reviewing the position gave me the information that the boss was a negotiator. So I feel its not a problem that i play a little hard ball.

majorrich's avatar

I certainly hope this isn’t the only warm iron in the fire. I agree with ChazMaz that this guy sounds like a complete jerk, and may prove difficult to work with later. I wouldn’t burn any bridges, but if it were me I would give him a thanks but screw you on this job and why.

chocomonkey's avatar

This is not the question you asked, but… Surprisingly, it is legal for employers to pay parents, especially single parents, less. They can (rightly) assume if they’re offering health benefits, that a single parent will likely have children on their plan, and thus cost the employer more, and use that as a reason to dock their pay from what they’d pay someone else.

Mothers get paid less than women without children who get paid less than men (even when you take into account time out of the workforce and look only at people with similar work histories). The assumption that they’re more costly or less reliable employees is likely the reason why.

If being a father is important to you, and you have other options, I would treat this as a red flag. I’ve learned over time that red flags during the interview process (particularly reactions to a boss or a work culture) are to be ignored at my own peril.

Good luck!

RedPowerLady's avatar

@chocomonkey Do you have any evidence to back that up? It is really hard to believe.

Val123's avatar

@RedPowerLady I think women are more prone to accepting a lower pay, whereas men are more likely to have a confrontation over it….

chocomonkey's avatar

@RedPowerLady Sure there’s data to back it up. For starters, see a book by Pulitzer-Prize nominee & NY Times Reporter, Ann Crittenden: The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued.

Which fact are you disputing? That mothers earn less or that it’s legal to pay single parents less?

RedPowerLady's avatar

@chocomonkey That it is legal. I know they get paid less.

chocomonkey's avatar

@Val123 Yes, that’s part of the problem – that women may accept lower pay, or not ask for raises as much as men. Also, studies show that employers assume women will accept positions they’re overqualified for more readily than men, and thus are more likely to ask a woman to take on such a role than a man.

Val123's avatar

@RedPowerLady I’m ready to hear this answer too. If it’s true, then it would be legal to pay parents in general less, not just single parents. That sounds like discrimination to me.

chocomonkey's avatar

@RedPowerLady – i’m looking online for a link to cite about the legality. in the meantime, found this about the pay disparity (for others who might be curious).

ubersiren's avatar

They are allowed to ask things such as “Do you have reliable transportation to get you to and from work?” They are not allowed to ask if anything regarding your personal life will affect your work. If they were allowed such things, they could ask “Will that limp hinder your ability to catch the subway on time?” or “How is having a sick family member at home not going to interfere with your work?”

You do not want to work for this bastard. It may be up to each state to decide whether or not it’s legal, but this guy sounds like a total douche bag.

ubersiren's avatar

Show the bitch this.
Did he ask you if you had children, or did you volunteer this info? Regardless, the article I linked says that there is a “general prohibition about discrimination over parental status.”

JLeslie's avatar

Here is what my husband wrote (remember he works in HR), although he did say he was in a terrible hurry so was short on the explanation If it is not job related, it can not be asked. If the questions is “are there any limitations for you to do the job” with the understanding of what the job is, it is ok. for example, if you have to open a store, the question may be, is there anything that can get in the way from you getting here at 7 am to open the store? You can not ask, does your kid’s schedule prevent you from opening the store.

chocomonkey's avatar

@RedPowerLady, @Val123 – I’m not able to find online the citation I’m looking for – it’s in Crittenden’s book – a story about a law firm in WV I think that overtly offered a single parent less than her counterparts, claiming the (assumed) high cost of benefits to employ her.

I’m not a lawyer, but what I’ve learned just now is:

1) It seems workplace discrimination against parents is not covered under federal law, and is handled on a state by state basis.

2) The Equal Pay legislation covers sex, race, age, disability, etc, but not parenthood.

chocomonkey's avatar

Further, single employees without kids can justifiably claim that they are victims of compensation discrimination because of the greater (healthcare and other) benefits given to peers who are married with children.

Young employees can claim they’re victims of age discrimination because their older peers may receive more compensation in the form of benefits as well.

It’s a mess. Calls into question employer-based healthcare, in my opinion.

Val123's avatar

@ubersiren He said “I found out that he called a previous employer of mine that offered the information that sometimes i would leave early and arrive late (revolving around the parenting time he has with his child.)” It was an agreed upon arrangement with his previous boss.

@JLeslie That sounds right
@chocomonkey How would a single parent’s insurance liability be any greater than a married couple’s liability? In fact, you’d actually be claiming one person less as a single parent.

chocomonkey's avatar

@Val123 – you asked “How would a single parent’s insurance liability be any greater than a married couple’s liability? In fact, you’d actually be claiming one person less as a single parent.”

Good question. It tends to be assumed if you’re married that there’s some possibility the kids will be covered or partly covered by some other employer’s insurance. If you’re single, or known to be the sole breadwinner, your entire family can be assumed to be on your employer’s plan.

Val123's avatar

@chocomonkey But still…even if they’re covered by insurance twice, your premiums wouldn’t change, nor would the company’s share of the premiums….

chocomonkey's avatar

@Val123 – the premiums charged by the insurance company are higher the more people on the plan; either the company hides this from the employee by paying it on your behalf, or you, the employee, is expected to foot part of the bill for covering more than a single recipient.

Val123's avatar

@chocomonkey Right, but I’m saying that even if Dad carries insurance on all five family members, and Mom does too, the premiums will be what they will be regardless of the second insurance, right? I mean, you could drop one of the insurances and the premiums of the one that you keep won’t change….

JLeslie's avatar

@chocomonkey @Val123 I don’t know any couples who both take health insurance if they are married, unless it is a fully paid benefit at both companies, but I guess some might?? I think at my husband’s company your fee for coverage depends on the amount of dependents, so a couple would be charged the same as a single parent and one child.

chocomonkey's avatar

@val123 @jleslie – see it from the company’s point of view…

Chris is applying for the job. Either Chris is single or married, with children or without. If the employer happens to know the answer (though it’s illegal to ask), then the employer sees the price of Chris as either (1) Chris’ wages + benefits or (2) Chris’ wages + benefits for the whole family. If they know you’re single sans kids, they know you’re going to be Chris #1 (at least for now). If they know you’re married, they can hope you might still be Chris #1 but there’s ambiguity. If they know you’re not married and have kids, they can assume you’re going to be Chris #2.

From the employee side, it doesn’t matter who you get insurance from as long as you’re insured. From the employer side, it matters a lot to the bottom line price for a given employee.

JLeslie's avatar

@chocomonkey But, I think they just have some sort of statistical assumption. Like 74% of full time employees will utilize our insurance plan. There is no guarantee married, single, whatever status, someone will or will not take insurance, and it changes every year with open enrollment or if a spouse loses a job and insurance coverage. Or, at least that is how it is now. No one is required to take insurance.

JLeslie's avatar

I just asked my husband and he said they never try to guess if someone will take insurance or not, or if they have many dependents or not when hiring. He is a Comp and Ben VP. He also said they don’t use a percent like I thought, but they are always aware of how many people are in the plans at any given time, and the expense related to it.

chocomonkey's avatar

@JLeslie – I know at one former workplace, it was assumed employees cost twice their salary, on average. Big workplaces, though, are different from tiny ones. Big ones can be more “grownup” about supporting families and good hiring practices – they have a bigger profit margin, they’re more likely to be commended for it, and more likely to be sued if they stray. Small workplaces though – being able to get an employee for less (ie someone else picks up the benefits), matters more.

That said, I know Wal*Mart’s been in the news for encouraging their employees to seek state-sponsored health insurance.

Val123's avatar

@chocomonkey State sponsored health insurance??? Like what? We have nothing like that that I know of at this time.

ubersiren's avatar

It’s also illegal for a former employer to answer anything but “Would you hire him again?” That’s ALL he is allowed to answer.

JLeslie's avatar

@chocomonkey logical, but the problem with it is people get married, have kids, etc. No guarantee your employee will stay with the status they were hired at, AND it is illegal to ask if someone is married or has children.

Judi's avatar

In California, Familial status is a protected class. I don’t know what state you’re in, but they better hope they’re not here!!!

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

That question seems really out of line and definitely illegal. I being the stubborn, determined person I am I would either A.) Walk away from this job offer completely, B.) Take this asshole to court or C.) Take the job and document all the illegal things that your boss tries to pull while you’re employed there. Then sue him for all he’s got. What he asked you is total discrimination. Don’t stand for it.

Val123's avatar

@ItalianPrincess1217 Wow! Remind me not to piss you off, dear!

Val123's avatar

@ItalianPrincess1217 LOL! Well, don’t get yourself into trouble, dear!

JLeslie's avatar

Is being able to write an essay part of the skill set needed for this job? Or, is he just looking for you to affirn you are able to work the hours needed in writing, but he is an idiot, and does not realize he may have crossed a legal line?

courtney1946's avatar

I read a bunch of responses but not all, so this thought may have been offered. I wonder if asking you this is a sort of test to see whether you go along with a questionable request. Like, do you have a backbone to stand up for yourself? Or do they already know they will be pressuring you into some ridiculous amount of overtime or something similar? Being flexible is one thing, but being a doormat is another, and you don’t want that. It would be good if you could get a reading from someone else knowing how things really work there.

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