How to Screen Out Troublemaking Employees...Legally

Far too many companies shoot from the hip when hiring people, figuring they can always get rid of them in a month or two if they don't work out. That's a recipe for trouble, thanks to the vast number of legal weapons that employees can now wield.

It always makes more sense to screen job candidates carefully... and hire only those who will fit in well. With the right screening techniques, this can be done.

Start by establishing a company philosophy. That might sound corny, but it helps. Whatever the company's goals may be, refine them, describe them and put them into a document that can be given to prospective employees. That document tells job applicants about the company's attitudes.


Find out about candidates' attitudes. The applicable questions are perfectly legal as long as they dovetail with the company's business-related philosophy statement and as long as all interviewers ask all applicants the same questions. All applicants should also be evaluated according to the same standards.

Effective questions for rooting out potential troublemakers:

  • If we were to call your former employers, what would they tell us about you?
  • Do you think you should be able to criticize management?
  • How do you react to rumors on the job?


What you're looking for in the answers to all of these questions are honesty, openness and respect for the chain of command. Employees who have nothing to hide, for example, will urge the interviewer to call their former employers. They're confident that the report will be good.

If there's an awkward pause, or if the candidate hems and haws, I often a sign that there's something he or she doesn't want your company to find out. In that case the answer usually goes something like this: Oh, I think they 'II give me a pretty good report...well, I really didn't get along too well with my immediate boss.

An applicant who gives an unequivocal no to the question about criticizing management usually isn't being honest. The kind of answer to look for: Not in every instance; But when management is doing something that I believe is dangerous or unfair, I feel that I should be allowed the opportunity of talking with management about the situation.

For better or worse, the grapevine is one of the most effective communications channels in any company. Here again, the applicant who claims not to pay any attention to rumors isn't being honest. Because many rumors involve guesswork about what management is up to, this question is a cross-check on the previous one about criticizing management, Best answer: Rumors can be upsetting, and if a rumor would impact my job, I'd like to feel that I could pursue it with management.

To probe further, ask: How would you discuss such a rumor with management? The best answer would be something indicating respect for authority and a desire to work through channels. If satisfaction isn't obtained at the first level in the chain of command, the employee would go to the next level. Time and time again, employees who give these answers are the least likely to cause trouble later.


The two things that most often trigger equal employment lawsuits are questions that aren't work related or that differ from candidate to candidate. Attitudinal questions that dovetail with the company's philosophy statement, however, are (or should be) clearly work related. And when every applicant is interviewed and evaluated according to the same standards, no one can claim discrimination. The key here is that the system establishes an even-handed measuring rod -- it doesn't mix apples and oranges.

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