The impacts of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) are real and growing. We must acknowledge that lives are at risk and that many of us will be personally impacted by the virus. Our entire team is working remotely, practicing social distancing, conducting meetings via video, and postponing travel.
As a result, my team started thinking about a company’s legal considerations when making accommodations for interviews. We connected with Danielle Ryman, an experienced employment attorney at Perkins Coie to get her perspective on company practices when it comes to interviewing candidates. Specifically, we asked what risks, if any, exist in offering to let candidates decide if they’d prefer a video/telephone interview over an onsite interview. Also, we were curious about how to handle health related topics that will inevitably surface in times like these.
Here is what Danielle had to say on the topic: “From a legal perspective, there are a few things companies should be aware of when talking to a candidate who expresses reservations about travel or an in-person interview. An employer cannot ask disability-related questions in the pre-offer stage of the hiring process. If a candidate expresses concern about travel because of potential exposure to COVID-19, you want to be careful not to ask questions that might elicit information about their health or a medical condition. If a candidate offers such information without any inquiry from someone with the company, then that information must be treated as confidential. Otherwise, I think it reflects well on the company to be as flexible and accommodating as possible with candidates given concerns surrounding COVID-19.”
In conclusion, the overall legal exposure risk is relatively low. However, everyone can benefit by taking the following steps:
- Do as much interviewing as you can via video conference. Ultimately, the finalist candidates will, most likely, want to meet the team and see the area before making a decision. At this point, the travel may be more warranted and/or the virus may be more contained.
- Focus recruiting efforts towards finding regional talent living within a 3-5 hour drive. Keep in mind that limiting a candidate pool geographically may limit the number of available and qualified candidates. Using a competency-based selection model and structured interview process can help evaluate candidate potential when trade-off’s in experience may be necessary.
- Consider how your employment brand shows up in times of crisis. Creating a fair process and positive candidate experience, especially when conducting interviews via video conference, will make a lasting impression. How you handle the situation speaks volumes about your company and can translate into a long-term employment brand advantage.
There’s little doubt that we are in unusual times and typical hiring practices will need to yield to the best advice on how to avoid exposure to COVID-19. Until then, we’re hopeful that the virus will be under control soon and we can all get back to business as usual. We are all in this together and we look forward to hearing your thoughts on the topic.
Danielle Ryman is a Partner at Perkins Coie. For 20 years, she has helped companies navigate the complex issues affecting today’s workplace. She counsels companies nationwide, on pay equity, executive employment agreements, restrictive covenants and enforcement, employee privacy and monitoring and terminations.
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