Workplace Safety

Safety During the Interview

FACT: Job applicants are legally protected against discriminatory hiring processes and sexual harassment throughout the hiring process. This section focuses specifically on the interview stage.

During the interview stage, federal law dictates that many questions, or types of questions, are illegal during the job interview. For example, employers are not permitted to ask questions pertaining to a candidate’s (presumed) disability, sex, family status, religion, pregnancy, age, drug or alcohol use, national origin or citizenship. In addition to these federally-protected classes, additional classes may be protected by state and local laws.   

Knowing which interview questions are illegal is half the battle; the other half is knowing how to respond if and when you find yourself in this situation as a job candidate. Unfortunately, there is no singular or perfect way to respond to an interviewer who asks a discriminatory (illegal) question. Your response truly depends on a variety of factors, perhaps including your personality, values, and individual goals and objectives. A few different strategies, however, may include the following: confront, inquire, or reframe.  

  • Confront: One option is to choose not to answer the question and/or and thoughtfully inform the interviewer that the question is prohibited by law. As this is the most assertive approach, it is important to be mindful that this response may be off-putting to certain employers, thus potentially impacting a job offer. Still, it is certainly within the candidate’s right to confront illegal questions head-on and refuse to answer if so desired.  

  • Answer: Another option, of course, is to answer the illegal question. If you feel comfortable discussing your age or family status, for example, there are no laws that govern whether or not you may share this information.  

  • Reframe: A third option is to reframe or deflect the question. This may be accomplished through asking a follow-up or clarifying question, or by offering information that is peripherally tied to the original question.  

In addition to knowing their rights around legal versus illegal questioning, job applicants should also be aware that they are protected from sexual harassment during the interview. Such harassment may include inappropriate comments, unwelcomed gestures, and/or inappropriate physical contact.  Two primary categories of sexual harassment include the following: 

  • Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment: Literally translated as “something for something’ this type of harassment may be evidenced, for example, if the interviewer indicates that the candidate must comply with his or her advances in order to be offered the employment position.   

  • Hostile Work Environment: this type of sexual harassment is more broadly defined, and includes any verbal or physical sexually-related act that makes the candidate feel uncomfortable. For example, a handshake is generally considered appropriate physical contact, whereas the interviewer’s hand placed on the candidate’s knee, is not. 

Again, there is no “perfect” way of responding if sexually-harassed during a job interview. Depending on the situation, and the severity of the behavior, a candidate may choose to:  

  • Terminate the interview immediately 

  • Ignore the behavior and complete the interview 

  • Verbalize the discomfort, but continue the interview 

  • Many others! 

After the interview, the candidate may need to think about whether or not to report the behavior, and, if later offered the job, whether or not to accept an offer with that particular company. Just remember, sexual harassment during the interview is illegal and never the fault of the job applicant.   

Resumes & Workplace Safety

A great starting point for writing a resume is to think about who you are and what is important to you. Believe it or not, this information will be inherently reflected in the document you craft through word choices describing your work, volunteer experiences, academic studies and other areas that illustrate who you are.  It answers the questions:  what are my values and how should I use them in the future? 

As you apply for opportunities, it is also important to understand that there can be inherent biases in the hiring process, and they can be a source of discrimination in the workplace.  For example, recruiters may “rate” resumes or use a “similar to me” bias when identifying candidates using names, ethnicity or gender. While not a common practice, it can occur. Many employers have addressed this issue by employing ‘blind processes’ for reviewing applications; this strategy reduces bias within the selection processes and aids firms in recruiting top, diverse talent.  

Before submitting your resume for a potential job, make sure you have customized it to ensure you are putting your best foot forward. The process of customizing your resume includes adding content that may be more relevant to the employer and consider omitting content that could be less appealing.  By reading the employer’s mission statement and knowing the company values will help you understand who the employer is and what they represent. From here you will be better equipped to customize your resume accordingly while remaining authentic.   

First, read through the job or internship posting carefully. Then do some research on the organization or company. Take a look at their website; what does their mission statement say? Do those values align with yours? If they do, great! But you should continue reading and dive a little deeper. Google latest news feeds or check out social media postings, and whenever possible talk with people who currently work there or have worked there to get an insiders perspective. 

After you have learned more about the company, ask yourself if this is an employer you would like to work for? If your values are not in alignment with the employer’s mission, don’t be afraid to listen to yourself. If your inner voice or “your gut” is telling you something, be sure to listen to it.  Too often, we try to justify not listening to ourselves and end up wishing we had.  

For more general information on resume writing go to the​ CaPS resume and cover letter resource page.

Salary Negotiation & Fair Compensation

Receiving your first job offer is exciting but concern over how to approach salary negotiation, evaluating an offer, and asking for a higher salary can be stressful.  Learning how to negotiate from a knowledge-based, confident manner can boost income and reduce stress. 

Some employers ask candidates to identify their salary requirements when completing an application, others ask during an interview.  While all candidates should be prepared to discuss salary requirements at any time, they should avoid asking about salary and benefits until the employer has made an offer.  This will allow candidates to fully articulate their value and be in a better position for negotiating.  

Not all starting salaries are negotiable.  However, if a candidate has the opportunity to negotiate, it is wise to do so; starting salaries provide the basis for future raises and bonuses. If you are unsure whether the salary is negotiable, you are encouraged to negotiate.  As long as a candidate conducts him/herself professionally and is not adversarial during the negotiating process, a reasonable employer will not renege the offer due to an increased salary request.   

Determining a fair salary is a four-step process: 

  1. Know your value: Articulate how you bring value to the company (think skills, experience, accomplishments, measurable results, areas you excel) 

  2. Identify your salary range and fringe benefits: Research job titles to locate average salary range for someone with your experience within a similar geography and establish your target salary.  Be realistic, know your budget, and assess the benefits package.  

  3. Define your strategy for negotiating:   After receiving a written offer, determine your value in relation to the offer.  Be realistic, remain positive and flexible: remember negotiating is not a battle, it is a conversation.   Develop a value proposition for the salary request; you need to define why you require more income based on the nature your skill set and position.  Be specific, persuasive and strategic when negotiating.  Avoid questions about salary history so that your offer is based on the position and not previous compensation.   

  4. Practice, practice, practice:   Seek assistance from professionals who can help develop a candidate's talking points and delivery.  Negotiation skills improve with practice and constructive feedback improves verbal and body language skills.  Remember:  do not allow compensation conversations to become personal nor emotional.  

On average women are paid .80 cents to every dollar men earn, and Black and Hispanic women earn even less.  Over time this adds up:  based on today’s national wage gap, women lose $430,480, African American women lose $877,480 and Latina women lose over $1,007,080 over the course of a 40-year career when compared to White men (AAUW, 2017).   

Factors that contribute to the gender pay gap include: 

  • Discrimination:  Paying women less than men for the same job or for comparable jobs. 

  • Family responsibilities:  women are disproportionately impacted by family caregiving responsibilities and are more likely to take time out of the workforce for family reasons.  These interruptions negatively impact the advancement of careers.  

  • Educational and career choices:  Men and women earn degrees in a variety of fields and certain degrees put graduates in positions to earn more money.  For example, engineering and computer science are educational fields where women are underrepresented, and they are some of the highest earning degrees.  Career choices are also influenced by gender norms.  For example, 97% of childcare workers are women and 96% of truck drivers are men.  However, on average, truck drivers make significantly more than childcare workers.  

It is illegal for employers to determine rates of pay in relationship to gender, marital status, pregnancy, ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation.  These are discriminatory markers and are illegal.  If these topics are discussed by a potential employer, you may click here to learn how to respond (https://www.eeoc.gov/ )

The Good News

Several states (including Massachusetts, California, Delaware and Oregon) have made salary questions illegal. In some states, employers may not ask “what is your current salary?”  Instead, the new law in Massachusetts requires that hiring managers state the position’s compensation upfront based on the applicant’s worth to their company.  This type of law is designed to ensure pay equality and increase salary transparency.  It is important to note that candidates may disclose their salary but are not legally required to do so.    

Several states including Maryland, have passed comparable operations legislation.  This requires equal pay for workers whose jobs are alike as well as work that is comparable and substantially similar.  

Do not assume that benefits (including paid time off and vacation pay) are legal entitlements.  No state in the nation has passed mandatory vacation requirements but it can be a point of negotiation.  Several states have passed paid sick leave laws.  The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is federal legislation that requires employers to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave.  In order to qualify for FMLA, private employers must employ least 50 employees and personnel be employed for over 12 months. Private employers with fewer than 50 employees are not covered by FMLA but may be covered by state family and medical leave laws. 

Under federal law, it is illegal for an employer to prohibit an employee from discussing his/her compensation with other co-workers.  Employers can prohibit employees from sharing colleague’s compensation with third parties; compensation is confidential information, and if shared illegally, an employee may be fired and an employer sued.  

When You Are Hired: Harassment on the Job

As you plan ahead for landing with an organization, the good news is that most organizations by now have formal or informal policies regarding equal employment opportunity (EEO) and harassment in the workplace. Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.  Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. 

RESOURCES:  

U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission website: 

https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/harassment.cfm 

Daskal, Lolly, “10 Tips for Dealing with Workplace Harassment,” Inc. Magazine online: 

https://www.inc.com/lolly-daskal/10-tips-for-dealing-with-workplace-harassment.html 

(The DESI model comes from a training called Respect at BankBoston in the late 1990’s) 

Federal laws regarding harassment protect virtually all private and public employees in the United States and those U.S. based companies functioning internationally.  The only groups of individuals exempt from protection are those individuals working in companies with fewer than 15 employees.  Several state laws, known as Fair Employment Practices, also address sexual harassment and the law in their own state as well. 

Who to contact: Human Resources is usually the function in an organization that provides this information and enforces compliance.  Some organizations may have a Diversity/EEO Officer that oversees policies. 

Even when these policies and practices exist in organizations, people – from the CEO on down – are not necessarily informed about policies or practice the correct behavior.  Even if the behavior does not meet the legal hurdle that it is “severe and pervasive,” people vary in their response to these words or behaviors.  

Example:  One employee may be comfortable hearing a co-worker tell an off-color joke while another employee may not be comfortable with it and take offense.   

Everyone in the workplace deserves respect, and each person needs to notice their feelings and decide whether or not to address unwelcome and offensive behavior.  When employees are recipients of disrespectful or harassing words or actions, there are choices in response:  one can a) ignore it or brush it off; b) talk to someone about it; c) report it; or d) address the person exhibiting the offending behavior directly. 

When employees choose to talk about it  and get support or assistance in assessing the situation, consider the following resources outside and inside the workplace: 

  • A trusted partner, family member, friend, or mentor outside of work 

  • The leader if there is a trusting relationship 

  • Human Resources/Diversity/EEO Office (if it exists) when the intent is to report 

  • An EAP or Health Services resource funded by the company 

If an employee chooses to report offensive behavior, among the most important policies on workplace harassment is no retaliation against the reporter.  This includes when the offender is a direct leader/supervisor.  In that case, the employee arrangement should not be affected negatively if reported.  It may take more thought and courage to report inappropriate behavior by a leader.  Be sure to seek advice from a trusted source. 

If one is confident in their ability to communicate directly with the person exhibiting offensive behavior, here is a simple protocol that can be used with the acronym, DESI

   D = Describe the facts using the “I” voice:  I was uncomfortable when you put your arm around me after today’s meeting. 

   E = Explain the impact:  It felt overly familiar instead of professional, and I felt disrespected by a valued colleague. 

   S = Suggest a future behavior:  In the future, please honor my personal space and do not touch me. 

   I = Inquire and get agreement:  Is this something that you will agree to? 

Federal and State Protections

New Hampshire became the 20th state in the nation to prohibit discrimination of all forms based on gender identity.  Governor Sununu signed HB1319 into law, and it took effect on July 20, 2018.  In signing the bill, Governor Sununu stated:

“Discrimination, in any form, is unacceptable and runs contrary to New Hampshire's Live Free or Die Spirit. If we really want to be the Live Free or Die State, we must ensure that New Hampshire is a place where every person, regardless of their background, has an equal and full opportunity to pursue their dreams and to make a better life for themselves and their families. This bill will ensure equal rights, equal opportunity, and nondiscrimination protections in the areas of housing and employment, and today I signed HB 1319 into law.”

(Source: Sununu.Press@nh.gov, 6/8/18)

House Bill 1319 adds gender identity to the list of protected classes under the New Hampshire Law Against Discrimination, the state’s anti-discrimination statute (RSA 354-A). The Law Against Discrimination prohibits discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and housing on the basis of age, sex, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, physical or mental disability, national origin, and gender identity.

The law makes it an unlawful for employers to:

1.     Refuse to hire or employ; bar or discharge from employment; or discriminate against an individual on the basis of gender identity in compensation or in the terms, conditions or privileges of employment.
2.     Employers are prohibited from publishing, circulating, or utilizing any statement, advertisement, publication, or application in connection with employment that expresses, directly or indirectly, any limitation, specification, or discrimination on the basis of gender identity

The law makes it an unlawful for Labor organizations to:

1.     Exclude or expel from membership or discriminate against an individual on the basis of the person’s gender identity.

The law makes it an unlawful for housing representatives to:

1.     Discriminate on the basis of gender identity in the sale, rental or lease of housing; and accessing places of public accommodation.

Under the amended statute, gender identity is defined as “a person’s gender-related identity, appearance, or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance, or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.”

Gender identity can be shown by presenting “evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity, or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held as part of a person’s core identity provided, however, that gender-related identity shall not be asserted for any improper purpose.”

New Hampshire joins California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and Washington, along with Washington D.C. to include gender identity and/or gender expression in their employment anti-discrimination statutes.

It is important for New Hampshire employers to update their policies and procedures to include gender identity and gender expression and allow employees to avail themselves of the statute’s protections.

New Legislation:  Employment Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

In June of 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of three LGBTQ workplace discrimination cases and has definitively outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

While employment discrimination based on sex has been illegal since 1964, this ruling is significant because it extends sexual discrimination to discrimination based on sexual orientation and succeeds in protecting the LGBTQ population from employment discrimination.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

This landmark legislation outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  It prohibits discrimination in the workplace, racial segregation in schools and in public accommodations.  It also prohibits unequal application of voter registration requirements.   The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction.

Additional Resources

Supreme Court Opinion on Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (employment) from the EEOC