10 Illegal Job Interview Questions to Avoid

Because each party has so much invested in the end result, a job interview can feel like a minefield for both the interviewer and the interviewee. It’s easy to lose sight of the mutual opportunity for each party to learn about the other. But it’s even worse to poison that potential by asking the wrong types of questions.

The interviewer has to be extremely careful to not ask discriminatory questions, and the candidate should know what questions they should answer and which ones to avoid. Asking the wrong questions can lead to federal lawsuits with very steep penalties.

Here’s a simple list of job interview questions that may be common but should nonetheless be avoided.

1. When Did You Graduate From High School?

A graduation date allows an employer to infer the age of a candidate, which can be seen as unlawful and a form of ageism. Any type of question pertaining to how long a candidate has been working, his or her birth year or even the date they graduated from college is not allowed. Even asking how long a candidate has worked in a particular industry allows the same conclusion to be drawn. Instead, ask how your candidate’s experience or skill set helps his or her ability to perform the job.

2. How Many Kids Do You and Your Partner Have?

Any job interview question that deals with marital status or family is not allowed. Sometimes this question is not meant to offend, but instead is meant to gauge a candidate’s availability. If you need this information, ask candidates how many hours they can commit to work each week, and if it’s required for the job, ask if they are available for travel.

3. Where Did You Get That Accent?

Employers cannot ask about a candidate’s nationality; this is discriminatory. But employers can ask if a candidate is legally allowed to work in the United States and if they are proficient in any other languages.

4. Do You Celebrate Christmas?

This can reveal a candidate’s religious preference, which makes it a discriminatory question. The employer can ask if you are available to work on Christmas or on weekends without being in violation. Anything that requires a candidate to divulge his or her religion is not a legal interview question.

5. Have You Ever Been Arrested?

Asking about arrests is illegal, but asking about convictions is not. Remember that convictions are not the same as arrests, as many arrests do not result in convictions. Employers have a right to know if a candidate was convicted, but not if that candidate has ever been arrested. Remember, we’re all presumed innocent until convicted, so arrests that were dismissed should have no relevance to a candidate’s qualifications.

6. Do You Have Any Disabilities That Would Affect Your Work Performance?

This should be obvious, but anything related to a disability is off-limits in the interview. Remember that disabilities include everything from physical problems to alcohol abuse, and they can be entirely invisible to the naked eye. All that matters is that your candidate can do the job you’re offering; as such, in these instances, you should instead ask if he or she is able to perform the specific duties of the position.

7. What Does Your Spouse Do?

Answering this question can reveal a candidate’s marital status, which is discriminatory. While they may simply be a way to spark small talk, personal questions like this have no relevance to a candidate’s qualifications and should be avoided completely.

8. Are You on Any Medications?

Medical information is not to be shared with an employer. Such information is protected by HIPAA. Medical and health questions have no place in a job interview. There is no right way to ask them, so don’t.

9. Do You Own or Rent Your Home?

While this may be just another way to spark a friendly conversation, this question directly relates to the candidate’s personal finances, which should not be part of the hiring decision. Anything to do with money (i.e. candidates’ debt status, their ability to balance personal checkbooks or their financial history) is not open for discussion.

Employers can request a candidate’s credit history, but the company must have written permission to do so. In some states, the candidate has the ability to accept or contest the information found as a result of the credit check.

10. Where Do You Go to Church?

This is yet another question that has no relevance to a candidate’s qualifications. Any question that seeks to reveal religious preference is discriminatory, so it’s best to avoid them altogether.

As someone performing an interview, remember to ask work-related questions. Focus on a candidate’s skills and abilities rather than his or her personal life. Knowing what job interview questions are appropriate for an interview can help your business poach top candidates while keeping you safe from discrimination lawsuits.

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