Interviews provide an opportunity for you as the employer to find out more about a candidate, while at the same time allowing the candidate to discover more about your culture, mission, the particular job requirements, and more. As an employer, you want to learn more about the candidate’s skills, qualifications, and previous job responsibilities. That way, you can determine if the candidate is the best fit for the job. However, there are certain interview questions and topics that are taboo. Why? Even if you don’t intend to, some of your questions may lead to illegal discrimination against the candidate.

Innocent Questions Could be Illegal Questions

Conducting job interviews isn’t easy, especially if you don’t conduct them that often. Most hiring managers don’t get a lot of practice – maybe once or twice a year – and their skills could be a bit rusty.  According to The Balance Careers, questions you feel could be innocent, such as, “Oh nice! I went to the same high school as you. What year did you graduate?” could get you in hot water. Age discrimination for people over 40 is illegal. Another example is, “I love your accent! Where did you come from?” Many people have really cool sounding accents and your question isn’t meant to be discriminatory. But national origin is a protected class. So if you don’t end up hiring that candidate, they could look back on that questions and consider it national origin discrimination. Point being, be careful about how you connect with your candidates. Your questions could be illegal.

Laws to Prevent Discriminatory Employment Practices

In the U.S., it is illegal for you as an employer to discriminate against a job applicant because of race/color/national origin, age, gender/sex/sexual orientation, religion, marital/family status, disabilities and medical history, and arrest record. Since the early 1960s, federal and state laws have been enacted over the years to prevent discriminatory employment practices. You can find a listing of those laws on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.

To Ask or Not To Ask?

To keep you and your interview team on safe ground, here are some examples of what can and cannot be asked or spoken about when interviewing candidates.

Race, Skin ColorNo questions are appropriate.  What race are you? Are you a member of a minority group?
National OriginAre you authorized to work in this country? What languages do you speak, read, or write fluently that relate to this job?What country are you from? Where were you born? Where are your parents from? What language do you speak at home?
AgeDo you meet the minimum age for the hours/working conditions? Are you 18 or older? What are your career goals? What’s your alma mater?How old are you? What year were you born? When did you graduate from high school? Are you comfortable being around younger employees? Do you think your age has ever held you back?
Gender, Sex, Sexual OrientationNo questions are appropriate.All questions about these topics are illegal.
ReligionWhat days can you work? Are you able to work on holidays or weekends?  What is your religious denomination? Do you attend church regularly? What religious holidays will you ask for time off?
Marital StatusCannot ask prior to hiring.   After hiring, ask about marital status on tax and insurance forms.Are you married, divorced, separated, engaged, widowed? Is this your married or maiden name? Questions about spouse/partner.
Family StatusIs there any reason you can’t start work at [time]? Can you work overtime? Do you have activities or commitments that might prevent you from meeting attendance requirements?How many children do you have? Do you plan to have children? How old are your children? Are you pregnant? What child care arrangements do you have?
Disabilities, Medical HistoryAre you able to perform the essential functions of the job with reasonable accommodation?   After hiring, ask about medical history on insurance forms.Do you have any disabilities? Have you had any operations or recent/past illnesses? What is your medical history? How does your medical condition affect your abilities?
Arrest RecordHave you ever been convicted of any crime other than a traffic violation?Have you ever been arrested? Have you ever spent a night in jail?

Of course, there are other topics to be mindful of and careful about how you word your questions. The most frequent are around military service, residence (own/rent), memberships in professional organizations, education, and references. In general, make sure your inquiries would not reflect potential discrimination due to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or marital status.

Questions Off Limits Throughout The Employee Lifecycle

These rules apply at all stages of the employer-employee relationship – not just during recruitment and interviewing, but also during hiring, promotion, and termination. Employers who ask illegal questions during interviews that could reveal information about the candidate pertaining to protected topics and then use that information to make their employment decisions are violating discrimination laws.

Wrapping It Up

All of the illegal interview questions we referenced above are off limits. Candidates do, unfortunately, encounter them even today. But as HR professionals you must remain vigilant and ensure that your team and hiring managers are effectively trained to interview properly. Best of luck as you recruit, interview, and onboard new hires! And let us know if we can help: Contact Us

Leave a Reply