Off-Limit Questions In Ministry Interviews
By: Vanderbloemen November 17, 2011
Recently we came across a great article on what not to ask during the interview process. Whether you're interviewing for a job or you're the person hiring, it's important to know what questions are off the table - legally speaking. Regardless of how casual a job interview may be, certain questions can get employers in trouble. And if you're being interviewed, it's important to know what questions you don't have to answer.
Federal law doesn't allow job discrimination based on someone's gender, race, religion, ethnicity, disability or marital status, meaning anything that comes up in an interview in regard to those topics can't be discussed. Only in rare cases - typically involving religion - are there limited exceptions. For example, a job qualification of a priest is to be a professing Christian, so a church would be within its legal limits to check. However, regarding any non-pastoral position, from secretaries to janitors to administrators is where you need to be careful when interviewing. Check out this article by our friends atChurch Law Group. The bottom line is that the church needs to be consistent with the policies it creates.
Drug and alcohol use are other topics that are illegal to talk about in an interview. What about drug testing? That's legal, even though it seems contradictory to the law against asking questions. This allows people who are or have been addicted to, or have been treated for addiction to, these substances (which is recognized as an illness and in some cases, a disability) to be protected from discrimination. However, if the answer is relevant to the job (such as positions that require driving on the job), it's legal to ask if someone drinks or uses drugs. It's not legal to ask how much, or if a candidate has ever been treated for addiction related issues.
It can be confusing when it comes to non-profits and matters of legality in the hiring process. If you're unsure of specific questions, seek legal counsel. There may also be local or state laws to take under consideration which a lawyer can guide you through. If you find yourself in a situation where you're unsure if a question is legal, the best bet is to stay away from asking - or answering if you're the candidate. If you stay focused on experience and personality during the interview process, you'll likely stay away from a lawsuit.