Recruiters and executives who do a lot of hiring can spend hours crafting the perfect interview questions.
But some questions are better left unasked, especially those that are overly personal or put your company at risk of an employment discrimination suit.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), workplace discrimination applies to job applicants and former employees, not just current staff members.
Applicants are protected from discrimination based on disability, genetic information (including family medical history), national origin, race, religion and sex (including gender identity, pregnancy and sexual orientation).
The best way to avoid a potentially disastrous and costly interview is to stick to questions that directly reflect the candidate’s ability to do specific tasks required for the job.
Additionally, familiarize yourself with the following questions to learn why the EEOC considers these and similar queries off-limits.
1. Do you have a disability?
This question falls squarely under the EEOC’s “can’t ask” category – even if the disability is obvious, such as the use of a wheelchair.
While it is acceptable to ask if an applicant would require reasonable accommodations to complete tasks outlined in the job description, asking questions that coerce an applicant to discuss a disability violates federal employment law.
Contacting an individual’s doctor or previous employer to learn their disability status is similarly illegal – and downright creepy.
Other off-limits questions include: Do you take any medications? Have you ever filed a workers’ compensation claim? Do you have a family history of illness?
2. Are you married?
Asking about a job applicant’s marital status during an interview is fraught with potential problems. Applicants that are not hired could claim they were not given full consideration because of disclosing their marital status.
Similarly, if an applicant joins the company and later feels they are treated differently than their colleagues, they could make a legal claim that they were hired because of their marital status and it was later used against them.
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3. Do you have children?
Inquiring about an applicant’s children and child-care plans is illegal.
Asking a job applicant whether they are pregnant or have plans to grow their family is an equally bad idea, regardless of the individual’s sex or gender. A good rule of thumb: If a question doesn’t directly involve the applicant’s ability to perform essential job functions, don’t ask it.
4. Is English your first language?
If proficiency in a second language is necessary for the job, questions and even tests to gauge language skills make sense. However, questions meant to learn an applicant’s race or immigration status have no place in an interview.
Also don’t ask: Where are your parents from? Were you born in this country?
Most job applications contain the question: Are you eligible to work in the United States? If an applicant answers yes, that is all you need to know.
5. How old are you?
Each regulated cannabis market has its own rules governing the minimum age of employment for plant-touching companies. For example, one county in Montana is currently being sued to change the minimum age to work at a dispensary from 21 to 18.
That said, employees 40 and older are protected from discrimination based on age. While it is not technically illegal to ask a job applicant their age, a better question is whether they are legally able to work at your facility.