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Date of birth inquiry -- is it acceptable?

Posted by Pattie Hunt Sinacole  August 15, 2011 08:14 AM

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Q: I am interviewing for a sales role for a medical device company. The company has asked me to fly out to their headquarters in southern California to meet with the VP of Sales and some of the other senior leaders. When we were discussing the possible travel dates and logistics, they said that they would need my exact name (not a problem) but also my date of birth. When I asked about the date of birth requirement, they said that this is a TSA regulations requirement. Isn’t it illegal to ask my date of birth at this stage of the interviewing process? Is the date of birth a valid TSA requirement?

A: You are right to be concerned about what you may be asked during the interview process. The law does limit, and in some cases, completely prohibit, an employer’s questions with respect to an applicant’s age, race, national origin, religion, disability, criminal history or other “protected class” status.

However, your situation is a bit different since traveling to the employer’s site was a required step in the interview process. I consulted Attorney Jeffrey A. Dretler, Partner of the Employment Law Group at Prince Lobel Tye LLP. Dretler confirmed my initial analysis. In short, the medical device company with whom you are interviewing has not violated the law if it requested your date of birth in order to make flight arrangements for you to travel to California to interview. Dretler explains, “The company is correct that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requires all airlines to collect the date of birth and other information from its passengers. If this candidate booked his or her own travel, then the company would not need this candidate’s date of birth for this purpose and very likely would not have any other valid grounds for requesting the applicant’s date of birth at this stage of the interview process.”

Since the company with whom you are interviewing appears to be asking for your date of birth in order to comply with federal law (i.e., TSA regulations), the inquiry appears to be permissible under both federal and Massachusetts law. If the company were not making travel arrangements for you, and still was inquiring about your age or other protected class status, you should ask the company why it is requesting that information. If it does not appear to you to be related to legitimate job qualifications, you may wish to consider contacting a competent attorney or seeking guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.

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Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.

Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.