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Illegal Interview Questions
Karolynn on January 10, 2014
Tags: Employees, Handbook, HR, Legal, Performance Evaluations
Following are some of the more common illegal interview
questions. While many HR and Recruiting staff know that these questions are
illegal, many hiring managers do not. And while no one is going to arrest you
for using these questions, you will find that there is a significant amount of
legal risk (meaning someone can sue you for discrimination). This is not an exhaustive list, just a list
of the most common, especially in the technology industry:
were you born? While this question seems innocent enough on
the surface, it could be used to gather information illegally about national
origin. Although it may seem more relevant, hiring managers are also not
allowed to ask “Are you a U.S. citizen?” Employers may ask whether you are
authorized to work in the United States, but not specifically about
citizenship. They may also ask for documents proving your authorization to work
in the U.S. after you have been hired.
is your native language? Again, the problem is that this question
could be used to determine national origin. The employer can ask whether you
know a particular language only if it is required for the job. For example, if
job responsibilities include supporting Spanish-speaking customers, it’s fair
to ask if you speak Spanish.
you married? Here’s another question that would seem
innocent in most settings, but is not allowed in a job interview. Employers are
not allowed to discriminate on the basis of marital status, so this question is
you have children? Even though this sounds like a casual,
innocent question, it is not allowed in a job interview. It’s covered by a
general prohibition about discrimination over parental status.
you plan to get pregnant? This question is not legal. Employers used to
ask this of women to avoid hiring someone that would go out on maternity leave.
It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender and on the basis of
old are you? Age discrimination is illegal, so this
question is off limits. Some companies have tried to avoid hiring workers over
a certain age for fear of higher insurance costs, the potential for more
absences and for a general age bias. For this reason, employers are not supposed
to ask what year you graduated from college, either, unless there is some job
related reason for the question.
you observe Yom Kippur/Good Friday/Ramadan, etc.?
Employers can’t discriminate on the basis of religion, so this question is
illegal. Employers can ask whether you can work on holidays and weekends (if
it’s a job requirement), but not about the observance of specific religious
you have a disability or chronic illness? It is illegal
to use disability or medical information as a factor in hiring, so these
questions are illegal. If the job would require some specific physical task,
such as bending to install cables in walls, the employer can ask if you could
perform those tasks with reasonable accommodation.
you in the National Guard? Although some managers may find it disruptive
when employees leave for duty, it’s illegal to discriminate against someone
because he or she belongs to the National Guard or a reserve unit.
you smoke or use alcohol? In general, employers can’t discriminate on
the basis of the use of a legal products when the employee is not on the
premises and not on the job.
and state laws prohibit prospective employers from asking certain questions
that are not related to the job they are hiring for. Questions should be
job-related and not used to find out personal information.
nutshell, employers should not be asking about your race, gender, religion,
marital status, age, disabilities, ethnic background, country of origin, sexual
preferences or age.
And while no
one is going to arrest you for asking these questions, remember that there are
less than honest attorney’s out there looking for reasons to sue and if they
can send people to you that may smell like smoke or you say something they will
have proof that you are asking these questions and you will find yourself on
the bad side of a lawsuit.