Full question: When evaluating job candidates with an unconventional background, eg illnesses, disabilities, convictions, etc., what approaches should I adopt in addition to, or differently from, what's typically used so that I can maximize both fairness as well as my company's interests (US multi state)?

Background: This is for a start-up that I'm building. It can be difficult to compete for talents with more established businesses, so I'd like to be more open-minded, which may turn out to be win-win. At the same time, for the most part this is uncharted territory for me. I'm aware of the potential legal issues and have been careful in that repsect. But I would also like to learn from other folks who have been involved in or have knowledge of similar cases.

Additional background (for the disabilities? case): Let's say an indie start-up needs a more artistic team member (digital audio/visual) to complement existing capabilities. A motivated entry-level applicant has a condition that affects many things being produced, not necessarily in a counter-productive way but potentially so, so it can be a judgment call. This hasn't affected the applicant's education per se, but schools give quite a bit of latitude in terms of choice of projects, so the portfolio has ended up being a little different from that of others. If in the future this turns out to be a bigger issue during production, I may need to find some other idea/technology/person to compensate, if at all possible and financially sensible. In terms of fit and personality, I haven't noticed anything remarkable. I'm hoping that even if things really don't work out down the road, despite doing our best, we would still be able to part ways amicably.

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    This is very open ended question and there is no one single answer to it. Since it depends on the country, state you operate and the position, role you are hiring for. If you can add more details instead of asking a very general question maybe it will help to answer. Jan 14, 2020 at 18:15
  • so I'd like to be more open-minded I'm having a hard time understanding that. Are you trying to say that you're planning on hiring people that other employers won't hire? What are your criteria, and how are they different than other employers' criteria?
    – dwizum
    Jan 14, 2020 at 18:16
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    I think two big things would be making sure those people see your job openings and making it explicitly clear that their candidacy will be seriously considered. (EOE statements aren't enough; everyone has those.)
    – BSMP
    Jan 14, 2020 at 18:45
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    @Stupid_Intern no, it's not open ended. It's actually easy to answer if you've ever dealt with groups that place people with disabilities or groups that are "second chance" groups. Jan 15, 2020 at 13:43

3 Answers 3



SOURCE: PERSONAL EXPERIENCE I would reach out to your local Vocational Rehabilitation office for some insights, and any charities for specific groups, such as the deaf, the blind, autistic, et cetera.

These people specifically can help you craft questions, as well as give you a steady stream of potential candidates, and what accommodations they may require. Aditionally, there are often tax breaks for people who hire people with disabilities, and specifically for those who go through the office of vocational rehabilitation.

Both the government offices and private charities can help you with things to look for, and look out for.

Be knowledgeable of the job duties that may be affected by a disability, and which may not. Take a high-functioning autistic, put him in the back room with a computer, low light, and no disturbances, and you'll never know he has a disability. Ditto that a deaf person in a loud environment.

But I would focus on one or two disabilities, then branch out from there. Know what you're dealing with, and use it.


You asked,

what approaches should I adopt in addition to, or differently from, what's typically used so that I can maximize both fairness as well as my company's interests

I think the answer to that is basically "nothing." Do nothing differently from what's typically done. In other words, follow the typical process: determine what skills you need, and what kind of person would be effective and happy working for you. Then, design your hiring process to find that person. Things like disabilities or illnesses don't matter (and, in fact, according to employment law, they can't matter) unless they're directly relevant to your needs.

The good news is, the "typical" approach is both legal (focus on what you need, not on protected things like disabilities) and effective (self explanatory - focusing on looking for the skills you need will get you the skills you need). It's also fair - if you're ruling people out or selecting them because of whether or not they can actually do the job, that's not something anyone will be in a position to dispute as unfair.

In other words, there's no secret trick to being "open minded" that will get you better people than other employers are hiring, and trying to base such tricks on protected traits is illegal anyways.


First off

Stay away from discrimination against someone because of their "illnesses, disabilities, convictions, etc.". Knowing what not to do can be as (or more) important than knowing what to do. Don't ask anything too personal or anything related to topics people (in general) believe would be discriminatory.

Under the laws enforced by EEOC, it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person's race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

The law forbids discrimination in every aspect of employment.



Focus on people abilities, knowledge, and positive aspects: Can they do what you you need them to do? Can they stand for X hours a day, can they lift 60 lbs., can they operate heavy machinery, can they manage people, can they use computer equipment, can they run a cash register, can they do software development, or whatever it is you need them to do.

If they can do what you need them to do, they are likely good candidates, but that's not the end of the story. You may need to do some basic testing to see if what they say they can do really is what they can do. If they need to be using a manual shovel, but both their hands are required for their standing implements, then you have a real reason to reject them. At the same time, there are people in wheelchairs that run heavy machinery and computers just fine. Be thoughtful about what you are doing and why, rather than just ticking things off a checklist. You likely still need a checklist, but don't make it the only thing that's important. Also of importance is that you do this for everyone being considered for the position. If you only test some people, you are being discriminatory.

Do not try to imagine how you would perform a specific job if you had the applicant's disability. He or she has mastered alternate ways of living and working. If the applicant has a known disability, either because it is obvious or was revealed by the applicant, you may ask him or her to describe how he or she would perform the job.

It is important to note that medical examinations are prohibited under the ADA at the pre-employment offer stage. However, a job offer may be conditional based on the results of a medical examination if all employees entering similar jobs are also required to take an examination. If, after the medical examination, the employer decides not to hire an individual because of a disability, the employer must demonstrate that the reason for the rejection is job-related and consistent with business necessity.



Can you trust them? Did they lie on their resume/CV and can you prove it? Did they steal from their previous employer? Did they do something else that was worthy of getting fired?

This gets tricky when it comes to a conviction. Some people learn their lesson and never do the same thing again. This gets tricky, too, since some people will never commit a crime again and others will do a different crime. The real trick is deciding if you trust them. Another tricky thing is that you can't always trust people without a criminal history, either. At some point, you'll have to trust people you know next to nothing about except what's on their resume/CV. Even a background check doesn't cover everything.

Federal law does not prohibit employers from asking about your criminal history. But, federal EEO laws do prohibit employers from discriminating when they use criminal history information. Using criminal history information to make employment decisions may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (Title VII).



When you end up rejecting an applicant, even after an interview, consult a lawyer, even if it's just for a basic form letter telling a "generic" applicant that you aren't interested in continuing the process with them. You will likely want to be as generic as possible. Instead of saying that the reason they aren't being pursued for the position is that they are in a wheelchair and can't stand to reach the buttons to run a machine, tell them that "you don't think they are a good fit for the position". To make this not discriminatory, you say the same thing to everyone that you reject. As distasteful as it is for you and the applicant, it's about the only way to save yourself from lawsuits in today's world. A lawyer will be better at helping you along with this.

Rejecting an applicant will be a blow to their ego and they'll be wanting to know what they did wrong. Remember that these people are people and to let them down as gently as possible, as well as avoiding the legal problems.

When composing a job rejection email template, it’s important to choose your words carefully. While the recipient may not welcome the news that they haven’t been selected for a role, being kind and considerate will ensure they still have a positive perception of your company.



Compare applicants based on their abilities. Comparing people to what they don't have is next, but also realize that some things can be learned. If they know how to run one type of heavy machine, they can probably learn how to use other types. Same with programming languages, styles of sorting paperwork, and more.

Don't compare them based on their ability to be trusted, since if you can't trust someone, they shouldn't have made it this far. Don't compare them based on their disability, since if you don't think they are capable of doing this job, they should also have been weeded out before this point. If you are doubting yourself about applicants on these topics at this point, it's likely they shouldn't have made it this far and can be put aside.

That said, you will have a variety of applicants that can do parts of the job, but not other parts. You need to decide what is the most important parts of the job. Making a point scale might make this easier. Write down the "importance points" next to each part of the job description, with the most important being more points and the least important being lower points. Score each applicant as to what they can accomplish and what they can't, then add up the scores. If applicants tie or come close to each other, you'll still need to decide if one applicant hits more of the higher "importance points" topics than another. You'll also have to decide if the few important things they can do really outweigh all the low importance things they can't. Said differently, what's more important: knowing a few things or knowing a wide variety of things, and how easy will it be for them to learn what they don't know.

How can you improve your hiring hit rate? An interview scorecard can provide a quantitative basis for comparison between interviewers, enabling you to validate your perceptions with your colleagues and learn where your ratings may be outside of the norm. By correlating your predictions with candidates’ actual performance on the job, you can also get quantitative feedback about your accuracy at assessing different criteria. Only by developing awareness of our own evaluative interview biases is it possible to correct them.



This might be the most important one, but I'm saving it for last in my incomplete list of hiring suggestions so you'll remember it later: treat everyone as equally and fairly as you possibly can. If there's a hint that you are being unprofessional and discriminatory in your hiring process, someone might decide to take you to court.

Whether their perception is accurate or not, this will take time, money, and effort away from what you are trying to accomplish. Be as transparent as you can be in your hiring process, but also realize that applicants don't need to know everything. This is where my #4 comes back into play. Make sure you consult a lawyer when communicating negative results to applicants.

If an applicant still decides to take issues with your processes, again consult a lawyer and treat the complaint as a real issue. Too many companies brush off complaints or laugh them off, only for it to come back and haunt them later. Doing this can also be perceived as part of the discrimination complaint. Deal with it as professionally as anything else and it will help show that you are as professional and non-discriminatory as possible.

There may be times when you accidentally do something wrong/stupid, even if you don't realize it immediately. If you own up to it, you'll likely have fewer issues.

I was interviewing candidates for an associate role. I found that the candidates were doing very well in the interview and most of them were very well behaved compared to candidates from another college. Then at the start of the interview there was a candidate who was being too professional. To which I commented "The institute has trained them very well" in a light humor to the other panel members.

He felt I was rude, because even after getting shortlisted for the role, he said he didn't want to continue and without giving much of a reason, he left. Was I rude to say that? And how can I correct it?

Is it rude to joke that a candidate was "trained well" by their college?


Don't be a robot. This will come off as being fake and "corporate", and will likely cause more problems than it'll solve. Be genuine and act like a real person with real interest in your applicants. During an interview, it can be ok to ask about hobbies and other personal interests, as long as it's clear it's more for personal background information for a culture fit than as part of the job description or something else that can be considered discriminatory. As long as it's considered "small talk", it's generally fine, but if it gets into "big talk", then you need to steer the conversation a different direction before you get into trouble.

Interviews really are a two way street, where an applicant and employer consider if they want to work together. A job description and resume/CV is similar, in that it's the first part of that street. An applicant will likely have an idea of what to expect of you and your company based on the job description. If they've done their homework, they'll have also looked at your website and maybe even tried to find you on the stock market and in the news to get a better idea of what to expect from you. Even if they can't find anything about you or the company, they will still have some preconceived ideas about you, just the same as you will about them due to their resume and anything you've researched about them.

Can you imagine walking into a first date that is completely one-sided? One person asks questions, yet answers none. In this case, the person asking questions might have a good understanding of who their date is and if they are compatible, but the person on the opposite end has not a clue. You can see how an interview like this might leave the job seeker a little confused and cautious about moving forward. The interview process is in place to make sure both parties are a good fit, so your process should reflect that sentiment.


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    This goes against what many disabilities advocates teach. Face it, we're different. We know we are. Jan 14, 2020 at 19:33
  • @RichardSaysReinstateMonica, and what to those disability advocates teach. Without some kind of real direction as to what I actually got wrong, I can't attempt to fix my answer. Jan 14, 2020 at 19:37
  • Forget about the EEOC. They're worthless. Also, folks outside of the mainstream aren't the same. We bring different circumstances and their own difficulties that you need to know going in. Jan 14, 2020 at 21:10
  • @RichardSaysReinstateMonica, I'm sorry you feel that way, but I'm not going to advocate anything that goes against the law. The EEOC is the law, in this case. As to "different circumstances and their own difficulties", that's what an interview and doing research about a candidate is all about, learning what those circumstances and difficulties are and if they are able to be addressed effectively by the candidate and employer. And to be fair, folks inside the mainstream aren't all the same, either. Jan 14, 2020 at 21:38
  • It's not about breaking the law, it's that the EEOC is useless. You get far better advice from the groups that actively deal with the particular disability, or people with criminal records. Jan 15, 2020 at 13:41

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