Hiring in Finance: Legally, what can and can’t you say?


Any time Finance is looking to bring on new staffers, you must ensure the interview process is carried out smoothly and soundly.

In today’s age, there are more than a few fair hiring laws to remember, from the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act to the Americans with Disabilities Act. And with any fair hiring law, even a small step toward noncompliance could lead to a laborious legal issue or costly settlement.

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When stepping into the interview room, you want to be confident that all the topics you and your finance department supervisors cover with candidates are not just appropriate – but legal. Here’s a brief review of some lawful hiring keys:

1. Be aware of sensitive topics.In general, you’ll want to avoid asking questions about:

  • affiliations (clubs, social organizations, union membership, etc.)
  • age (other than proof that the candidate is 18 years of age)
  • alcohol or drug use (other than if they currently use illegal drugs)
  • criminal record (other than if they’ve ever been convicted of a crime)
  • culture/natural origin (other than proof of legal right to work in the U.S. and language fluency, if relevant to the job)
  • disability (other than 1) ability to perform essential job functions with or without accommodation 2) how they would perform a job-related function 3) prior attendance records, and 4) undergoing a medical exam after an offer has been made)
  • gender/sex (other than asking if they’ve ever worked under another name)
  • marital/family status
  • personal aspects (appearance, home ownership finances, etc.)
  • race, and
  • religion (other than if they have a problem working Saturday or Sunday, if relevant).

2. Keep the conversation job-related. If a sensitive topic does come up in conversation, make sure all your questions revolve around how it will affect their ability to perform the essential job duties.

For example, if a candidate mentions having an anxiety disorder, you can ask: “This role requires talking to trading partners on the phone. Can you tell me how you’d plan to do that?” You shouldn’t ask: “We you just recently diagnosed with that?”

Or, if a candidate mentions having three sons in elementary school, you can ask: “We do our check runs every other Wednesday at 4 p.m. Does that present a problem for you schedule-wise?” You shouldn’t ask: “Do you have someone that can pick up your kids from school?”

3. If they provide personal information, don’t dig more. Sometimes, candidates willingly offer up information that you can’t legally ask about, such as one of the topics mentioned above. In those situations, it’s best to not pursue it further and leave it out of your documentation. That way, those comments can’t be held as part of your hiring decision.

4. Stay consistent to stay fair. If all else fails, you can protect yourself and your company by sticking to a process that asks all candidates the exact same questions, keeping each interview equal and unbiased.