Marital Status

I recently interviewed a female applicant for a position with my company who is moving to our area as a result of her husband beginning employment with a large multi-national company.  Concern was expressed by a VP of my company regarding the applicant's logevity with my company, and wants me to ask the applicant what the potential for his being transferred.  I'm, of course, concerned regarding the potential discriminatory nature of the question, since it's likely that my VP would not have raised the concern had the applicant been a man.  I'm also concerned that it will be perceived as discriminatory by the applicant, since our business has historically been male-dominated.  Any thoughts, comments, experience in such matters would be appreciated.


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  • I would suggest steering clear of that question.  Had you not known about her husband in the first place this would not have come up.  In any 2 income household, there is always the potential of transfers, job changes, etc.  You could drive yourself (and your legal team) crazy if you tried to find candidates with no personal relationships what-so-ever.  I'd also think it would make for a very strange and awkward workplace if you did.
  • I agree with EFeldman about steering clear of that question.  However, you can ask other questions to get at the same type of information.  This isn't about her spouse, it's about her predicted tenure with your company.  You can certainly ask how long she thinks she would be able to stay with the company if she were offered the position and accepted.  She may ask you if that's because she's married or if it's because she came as a trailing spouse.  You can say no, it's because you want to hire someone who is likely to be in the position for 2+ years, for instance, and if that works for her, she can have the job.  You can also ask her if she is aware of anything in her life that would cause her to leave in less than 2+ years.  Naturally, it would be better if you had a history of asking all short list candidates this quesstion rather than starting up right now with this person.  In any case, those technicalities aside, you can't go very far with this no matter how you dress it up and present it.  If someone is asked how long they'll stay in the job, their answer is likely to be self serving and you won't learn anything new anyway. 
  • I agree that staying clear of this is probably the best move. The only thing that comes to mind that you could ask is what are her career goals - both short term and long term to see what answer you get.
  • In this day and age, I don't think a trailing spouse is any more or less likely to either stay or leave a job position than any other employee.  Even as someone who has lived around the same area for 38 years, there is always a chance I will have to move due to DH's position. It is a bigger factor now that you have dual income families.   

    Also, any employee you have could get hit by a bus today....or get in an accident that places them out of work for a significant period of time.

    Succession planning is important no matter what the position.  There are no guarantees.  Cross training employees can help a bit also.

    So no, I wouldn't ask the question.


  • Hey, did you agree to ask this question?  Company hired you for your HR expertise, so when VP suggested question, you should have come right out and said that it could be construed as discriminatory.  If you didn't say anything and you don't ask the question, you now have the problem of what to say to the VP.
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