I indend to create a website where independent contractors fill in profiles and homeowners can perform searches to hire the contractors. May I ask in the independent contractor questionnaire whether the contractor has ever collected unemployment, whether he smokes and other sensitive questions some of which mght not have been permissible in a regular job interview?
The short answer is: if you know it's sensitive, don't do it. You will just be inviting a law suit. Even if the case is thrown out, you still need to pay an attorney to defend you. The best practice is to guard against possible liability. PS-- anyone starting a business needs a good accountant and lawyer, in that order.
If the contractors who are responding to your questions are informed volunteers, there is no law or legal principle that prevents you from asking these questions and publishing their answers. You will, like any web-publisher, need to adopt legally and practically sufficient protocols and business practices to guard against responses by persons using names of licensees and/or business entities that they are entitled to use. You also need to consider the issues of disclosure to your respondents and to your readership, rescission of agreement, informed consent, and many other latent and patent issues.
The business model that you propose carries so many critical and challenging legal issues that it is troubling that the one you have asked about here is relatively straight-forward, but NOT the most important question or subject matter of legal perils for the business you intend. You really must protect yourself with a consult with a business attorney; best case is a consult with a lawyer with significant experience in web-based business, publishing and services.
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I think you need to sit down with an employment attorney and hash this out. You intend to ask a wide array of questions, some of which are perfectly fine and others which raise eyebrows at the least. Go over each question in turn, the time and grief you save in the long run will be invaluable.
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