Top Five Scariest HR Scenarios (And How to Avoid Them)

Jolene Pilgrim
31 Oct 2017

It’s that time of the year.  Pumpkin-spiced is invading everything from coffee to your morning bowl of cereal.  The leaves are falling and goblins, ghouls, and monsters (oh my!) are lurking in your neighborhood with hands open for free candy.  

While the threat of consumption of over-priced, seasonally themed lattes and cavities from sugar overload is on your day-to-day radar, there are other more nefarious scenarios lying in wait for unsuspecting candidates, hiring managers and other professionals.  Whether it’s during the interview or after, while on the job, there are certain statements and behaviors that cause nightmares for the HR set and could lead to missing out on or losing that job of your dreams.  

All hope is not lost, however.  Like a trusty flashlight on a late-night trick-or-treating run, we’ve got a few treats to help you avoid these tricky situations.   


While some physical impairments are outwardly obvious, others are harder to pick up on when candidates and potential employers meet in the interview room.  Regardless of how they may be physically expressed, employers are prohibited from making hiring decisions based on disability.  Similarly, once an employee has been hired their disability can’t be considered when making decisions regarding retention, performance or compensation.  Things get a bit tricky when a job requires some kind of physical activity and certain disabilities may impact a person’s ability to perform essential job functions.  A good rule of thumb is to list all physical and mental requirements of the role in the initial job description and ask a candidate broadly whether they are able to perform these tasks.

Race or Ethnicity

Much has been written lately encouraging people to avoid cultural or racial misappropriation in their choice of costumes for this year’s spooky shenanigans.  Hiring decisions based on these grounds are also a no-no.  Beyond just being in bad taste, however, asking questions regarding a candidate’s ethnicity or discriminating based on race is also illegal.  National origin is a similarly prohibited topic, with one big exceptions.  Employers are allowed to ask applicants across the board if they are legally able to work in the U.S. based on current employment and immigration laws.  

Interoffice Dating

This topic is geared more towards things candidates and current employees should do, or not do.  While you may be feeling amorous after a couple glasses of witches brew at the local after work watering pub, dating your coworker may be setting yourself up for a variety of ghoulish consequences back at the office.  Most companies strictly prohibit interoffice relations between direct reports and some even frown upon dating within the same department.  Your company should have a code of conduct that clearly spells out these restrictions, along with any mandatory reporting or disclosures that must be made if you do decide to roll the proverbial dice.  Thoroughly review these guidelines in order to avoid getting a scary surprise via a reprimand.

Kids and Questions About Kids

Kids and Halloween go together like apples and bobbing, eyeballs and witches and chocolate and peanut butter.  While this spooktacular time of year may be perfect for dressing that little one up like the most adorable 102nd dalmatian ever, kids are a more taboo topic when it comes to employment.  Employers shouldn’t ask potential candidates about whether they have or plan on having children.  Needless to say, this also puts questions about whether female interviewees are pregnant off the table.  As a final word of warning to ladies and gentlemen, employees or employers alike, whether in the workplace or in public you should probably avoid asking a woman you assume is pregnant, when they are due.  Not only is it embarrassing when that extended tummy is actually just a byproduct of too mucHalloweenen candy, it can also get you into HR hot water at the office.

Drinking, Smoking and Other Social Habits

Our final list of HR scares comes in the form of social or recreational habits.  While it may be pertinent to your party plans to get an accurate count on those jello eyeball shots, whether an interview candidate drinks, or smokes for that matter, is firmly off limits as a screening question.  The idea behind this fear-inducing faux pas is that employers may avoid making offers to candidates they feel engage in out of office drinking or that will use company resources for smoke breaks.

When it comes to existing employees and potential candidates, a little imbibing from time to time certainly isn’t anything to cause any heart palpitations, but posting pictures of wild drinking nights on your social media accounts could make an employer think twice about your professionalism.  And although it shouldn’t need to be said, unless you’re job involves being the life of the party at the local watering hole, keep the alcohol out of the office and skip that lunchtime cocktail or glass of wine.

Keep these handy tips in mind and you’re sure to have a scare and HR visit free halloween this year and for years to come.

Jolene Pilgrim