The Legal Insider

June 2013

When Do Uncomfortable Job Interview Questions Become Illegal?

Most people find job interviews stressful. You have to dress up, meet new people, and answer questions like "where do you see yourself in 5 years?" Most questions asked during an interview are designed to test whether you can perform the job. However, some types of questions are illegal.

Below are some possible interview questions - can you tell which could get an employer in legal trouble?

  • What Is Your Salary History?
  • How Do You Get Along With Your Mother?
  • Which Charities Do You Donate To?
  • What Sport Do You Play?
  • What Would You Do If You Became Pregnant?

The question about salary history is mostly innocent. Questions about prior work history are fair game, including how much you previously made. The only legal issue is if the interviewer follows up this question with a promise about your future salary with the company, which could be binding.

The interviewer who asks about your relationship with your mother might be trying to determine how well you work with women. The greatest danger about this question is that it invites the interviewer to make broad statements about women based on stereotypes, which is prohibited by gender discrimination laws. If your mother is ill, the employer cannot assume that a female applicant will neglect her job to take care of her mother. Likewise, the employer cannot assume that a male applicant will not want time off to care for his mother.

The charity question could reveal too much about your religion, or it could be a way to show that you are good at networking. Whether this question is legal or illegal really depends on how deep the interviewer delves into certain answers. For example, if you mention that you donate to the Susan G. Komen breast cancer charity organization, the interviewer should not turn the meeting into a discussion about abortion. Abortion carries a religious overtone which is not relevant to most job positions.

Similarly, the interviewer who asks what sport you play might be trying to assess how you work on a team. The problem with this question is that it might hinder job applicants who cannot play a sport because of a physical injury. Physical injuries are a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the employer cannot use that as a reason to deny you the position - they have a duty to make reasonable accommodations.

The pregnancy question is clearly illegal as a form of pregnancy discrimination. Employers cannot use stereotypes about gender to make an employment decision. Many employers assume that women who become pregnant will leave their jobs soon after in order to take care of their new child. Pregnancy discrimination laws prohibit this kind of employer assumption about the role of women in society.

If you are asked an improper interview question, tell the interviewer why you think it is wrong - politely of course. Although not all interviewers will appreciate being challenged by a job applicant, challenging an illegal question should be viewed as opposing discrimination. If you are subsequently rejected for the position, you might be able to sue for discrimination. Talk with an employment law attorney for more information.


Injuries to Watch Out For This Summer

Summer is the time to take a break, get out, and have some active recreation. We all look forward to this time of year, when the weather is great for fun in the sun. However, some summer activities can be associated with personal injury risks you probably haven't thought of.

While most organized activities require you to sign a liability release form or waiver, injuries can still result from instances of negligence. Be especially careful when engaging in:

  • Water sports- Activities like swimming, kayaking, surfing, or fishing can expose a person to water-related injuries. Several parties can be held liable in such situations, including boat operators, activity instructors, and other persons engaged in similar activities (such as other boaters, surfers, etc.). Injuries often occur when changes are made, so you can reduce the risk of injury by choosing a regular instructor.
  • Summer camps- Children often engage in various outdoor activities while attending summer youth camps. Make sure your child is with a well-recognized and experienced organization. A common camp injury is heatstroke; this often occurs when camp personnel arenít being attentive to the needs of the group. Similar situations can also arise with allergies and asthma.
  • "Extreme" sports- skydiving, bungee jumping, and other types of extreme activities are also associated with a high risk of injury. Both the instructor and the company can be held liable for their negligence even if a release form was signed.
  • Hiking and camping- Organized hiking and camping is popular these days; being in a group can make the experience safer and more enjoyable. Careful planning and thoughtful organization can help avoid injuries such as food-related illnesses, sprains or strains, and dehydration. You should have several experienced persons in the group if itís your first time on such a trip.

Summertime injuries can be prevented and reduced by being careful and by knowing what youíre getting into. Filing suit for personal injury damages can be a hassle, so do some research beforehand, especially if itís a new activity for you. Get out there and have some fun, and be safe!


Crucial Issues That Will Affect the Real Estate Landscape

Most of us are well aware that the real estate and property market has changed considerably in the last decade. After the many different dips and dives our economy has taken, we can all see the importance of making educated decisions when it comes to real estate.

Apart from the ever expanding array of complex mortgage loans available today, there are some new factors arising that will affect the real estate landscape in a big way in the years to come. Some of these include:

  • Student Loans: A large number of persons are entering the workforce with several tens of thousands of dollars in college and grad-school debt. This will affect real estate purchases since most people buying homes will already bear sizeable debt loads. And unlike other types of loans, student loans generally arenít dischargeable in bankruptcy.
  • Age: Our population is getting older, meaning more elder housing. Factors such as health care coverage, employment age protections, and senior retail all affect the demographic layout of certain areas. Places like Florida and Arizona are becoming "hot spots" for retirement home purchases.
  • Public Funding: Under-funded state and county agencies affect everything from infrastructure stability to public utilities. These in turn can drastically affect the real estate market in the surrounding areas.
  • Flexible Mortgages: Borrowers with flexible mortgages gain various extra options, including the ability to make over or underpayments, borrow back from previous instances of overpayment, and to take "payment holidays" (i.e., a 1-6 month break from payments). These types of mortgages help to avoid pitfalls associated with traditional real estate contracts (such as a buildup of missed payments).

Traditional perspectives on real estate and property are getting dated, and need to be revisited with new information. Being informed of these crucial issues can help broaden our outlook on real estate for the years to come.


Asking Your Landlord to Make a Disability Accommodation

According to the most recent census, 18.7% of Americans have a disability. Disabled people have the right to "reasonable accommodations" in many areas of life, including their rental properties. These reasonable accommodations can take many forms, like being able to keep a service dog in a pet-free apartment, modifying kitchen appliances, or forcing the property owner to install a wheelchair ramp.

Many tenants are anxious about asking their landlord for a reasonable disability accommodation for fear of retaliation. Tenants should not be worried, since the Fair Housing Act (and other state laws) provides protections if you follow these steps:

First, be prepared. Landlords may resist an accommodation if they doubt the tenantís status as a disabled person. Visit a doctor and get a written report on the status of your health. Since disability law covers both mental and physical impairments, a wide range of disabilities are protected. You can also get a doctorís note recommending a specific accommodation. If you make any accommodations yourself or if you hire someone to make an accommodation for you, you should keep the receipts so that you can ask for a reduction on the next month's rent.

Second, you should inform the landlord before making any changes yourself. Before you get a service animal and violate the leaseís "no pets" provision, you should first tell the landlord that you need a service animal. If you inform the landlord first, you can avoid many communication problems. If the landlord agrees to any changes to the lease or to the property, the agreement should be in writing.

Finally, donít be afraid of having your request for an accommodation rejected. It could be your request isn't reasonable. No matter - your landlord is prohibited by law from retaliating against you for requesting accommodations by raising your rent or evicting you. Such actions would be considered disability discrimination.

If your request was reasonable and your landlord still refuses to make the disability accommodation, you should speak with a lawyer. Failure to provide reasonable accommodations is considered disability discrimination, and most attorneys handle these cases on a contingency basis (you pay no money, and give the lawyer a percentage of any award).


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