An interesting conundrum came up recently in Randy Cohen’s column, The Ethicist, that bears on our post Tuesday regarding the role of human resources in workplace ethics. In the wake of the recent California Supreme Court Ruling that recognized the right of same-sex couples to marry, a reader writes into Cohen asking:
I am a supervisor at a large corporation in the Bible Belt. I am gay and out and, while the company has no formal nondiscrimination policy, my colleagues and supervisors generally have no issues with my sexuality. I am about to interview a potential employee in his early 20s, who hunts, drives a truck and did not attend college. I want those who join my team to be of a tolerant disposition. Would it be appropriate to tell this applicant that I am gay?
And Cohen answers:
It would not. By bringing up your sexual orientation in a job interview, you could give the applicant the impression that his is a factor in hiring, a policy that would be unethical. Instead, talk about your company’s amiable, tolerant work force and your eagerness to add someone to your team who is similarly broad-minded…
What I found curious were the assumptions on the part of the writer. The writer assumes that just because the prospect is a hunter, drives a truck, didn’t go to college and lives in the so-called Bible Belt, that he or she must hold certain prejudices – which is itself a prejudice. To his credit the writer wrote in after the interview, saying that he had misjudged the candidate’s level of tolerance, though Cohen initially failed to point to this obviously questionable presupposition.
And while Cohen’s response seems reasonable at the outset, would it really be so wrong to sound out a prospective employee about his or her feelings with regard to the lifestyle orientation of potential coworkers? How is that different than, say, assuring that the candidate feels positive about affirmative action or equal opportunity? Aren’t these concerns as legitimate to HR as ensuring that the prospect is “a good fit” for the job in other ways, including overall goals, attitude and outlook?