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6 Illegal Interview Questions to Avoid


Hiring and specifically interviewing candidates is a task most managers and business owners often dread. As you prepare to interview, you probably create a list of questions you want to ask that person. It’s equally important to know what questions you shouldn’t be asking a potential employee, to avoid legal trouble.

What makes an interview question illegal?

What makes an interview question illegal is its potential for discrimination based on the candidate’s answer. Federal laws under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit discrimination against a job applicant or employee based on a variety of characteristics, including race, color, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, political views and family status. Employers with at least 15 employees are subject to these laws, which are enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

There is no specific law that states which questions are illegal to ask. It is in asking certain questions with discriminatory intentions that makes questions illegal and best to avoid to prevent any claims of discrimination. Here are 6 interview questions to avoid and why:

Here are 6 common illegal interview questions to avoid and why:

  1. How old are you? Though it is legal to request a candidate’s date of birth to run a pre-employment background check for example, directly asking candidates their age or when they graduated high school can be troublesome if a candidate feels that is the reason they were not hired for the position.
  2. Where are you from? or Is English your first language? You can ask a candidate if they are eligible to work in the United States, but asking a candidate specifically where they’re from could be grounds for national origin discrimination.
  3. Are you married? It may seem like a simple topic to initiate small talk, but asking a candidate if they’re married or planning to have children, may open the door for pregnancy or sexual orientation discrimination claims.
  4. Do you have any health conditions? Rather than asking about a candidate’s health, ask questions that are directly related to the demands of the position, such as “Are you able to lift 50lbs several times throughout the day?”
  5. Have you ever been arrested? It’s not illegal to ask about a candidate’s criminal history, but you cannot ask if a candidate has been arrested because the fact that an individual was arrested is not proof that he or she engaged in criminal conduct. An individual’s arrest record standing alone may not be used by an employer to make a negative employment decision.
  6. Are you in debt? You may choose to run pre-employment credit history checks as part of your hiring process, however, you cannot base your employment decision on that information without giving the candidate a pre-adverse action disclosure that includes a copy of the report and a copy of the candidate’s rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

Remember, this list is only a sampling of the most common interview questions to avoid.

If you have questions about interview questions, contact our HR team who can help you determine if your interviewing process is on the right track.

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