Even before you're hired, potential employers need to follow the law.
In many fields, the first few months of the year are the peak hiring season, and as the labor market continues to fluctuate, many Ohio workers are looking for new jobs. Job searching can be frustrating and feel like the deck is stacked against you, but you do have some legal protections. While employers have fairly wide latitude in making hiring decisions, they cannot make those decisions for unlawful reasons.
It's important to remember that your legal rights under federal and Ohio law don't just apply when you're an employee; many also apply to the hiring process. If you're looking for a new job, make sure you know your legal rights and are ready to stand up for them with an experienced employment attorney on your side.
Illegal discrimination in hiring
Under both Ohio and federal law, employers cannot make hiring decisions based on your protected characteristics, including:
- Race, ethnicity, or national origin
- Sex, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation
- Age (if over 40)
- Genetic information
This applies even to the initial job posting or job description. For example, physical fitness requirements that aren't relevant to the job's core responsibilities can be discriminatory against older, pregnant, or disabled workers. It's fine for an employer to expect a factory worker, warehouse worker, or construction laborer to be able to lift up to 35 pounds, for instance, since that's a core part of the job, but the same requirement for an office worker who is not regularly required to lift heavy objects would be discriminatory.
Likewise, questions asked in interviews should be focused on the job requirements and responsibilities without discriminating on the basis of a protected characteristic. Some examples include:
- "Are you legally authorized to work in the United States?" is a lawful question. However, "Were you born in the United States?" could be considered discriminatory on the basis of national origin.
- "Can you perform the job duties, with or without reasonable accommodations?" is a lawful question. However, "Do you have any medical conditions that could affect the job?" could constitute disability discrimination.
- "What is your weekend and holiday availability?" is a legitimate question if that's important for the role. However, "Will your religious practices affect your availability?" could be religious discrimination.
- "How much experience do you have in this field?" is a valid question. However, "How long have you been in the workforce?" is functionally a question about age, which could be discriminatory.
These are illustrations, not hard and fast rules; whether a certain question is lawful or unlawful depends on the circumstances. It's also up to you how you want to respond to an unlawful question. One option is to sidestep the question by focusing on what's relevant to the job: "nothing in my personal life will interfere with my ability to do the job" is a reasonable answer.
Wage history and salary negotiations
In Ohio, it's generally legal for employers to ask about your current salary or salary history. It's also generally legal for them to ask about your salary requirements or expectations. That said, you aren't required to disclose that information; it's reasonable to say, "my salary requirements depend on the job duties" or "I need to look at the whole compensation package" instead of giving a figure up front.
Regardless of how salary negotiations progress, employers are legally responsible for paying workers fairly for their work without discriminating on the basis of race, gender, or another protected characteristic. This isn't about intent; it's about the impact of their policies. If, for example, an employer ends up paying men more than women for the same work, it's not a valid defense for the employer to say, "the men asked for more money in negotiations" or "the men made more money in their previous jobs, so we paid them more." The onus is on the employer to ensure their salary structure complies with the Equal Pay Act and other relevant laws.
Talk to an experienced employment law attorney about your rights
If you believe a prospective or current employer violated the law in the hiring process, you may have legal recourse. The first step is to talk to an experienced employment law attorney about your rights and options. Contact Nilges Draher LLC for a free case evaluation. We can help.