January 30th, 2015
Conducting a job interview for potential new employees is a common occurrence, yet is often done in a manner of disorganization. Employers are frequently asking questions that shouldn't be asked and neglecting to ask those questions that may be more essential for conducting a proper interview. Federal and state laws pose significant liability for employers that ask improper questions that are deemed illegal or that may be interpreted as discriminatory. A well prepared interview format, as well as a clear understanding of what not to ask in a job interview, is yet another protective measure that employers must take in effort to prevent unnecessary conflict with job candidates and the law.
State and federal laws make discrimination based on certain protected categories illegal. Note that the list below identifies common topics/questions that are addressed in interviews and is not a complete list. Employers are urged to stay away from the following illegal topics:
- Religion, including which religions holidays are observed
- Marital status (asking about marital status is illegal in many states)
- Family status
- Physical disabilities
- Ethnic Background
- Country of Origin
- Sexual Orientation
- Military Service or information on discharge
- Debt/financial status
- First spoken language
- Consumption of alcohol
- Past use of illegal drugs (it is allowed to ask about present use)
- Pregnancy status
There are topics and questions that, if addressed, must be asked with great care. Examples of this may relate to health or medications and these types of questions are almost always off limits. Remember that the questions asked in an interview must relate directly to the specific occupational qualifications.
Please see the links below for additional references and information regarding improper interview questions. Additionally, note that these laws are combined at a federal and also a state level. There are variables to many topics discussed in interviews (specific verbiage to use for particular topics, specific circumstances apply to specific topics, etc.) and as a result, employers should be familiar with both the federal and their state guidelines so as to be fully compliant. Of course, this information should be verified regularly and references retained in your office compliance manual.