Questions You Should Never Ask in a Job Interview
Imagine this hypothetical scenario: you’re a small business owner who needs to fill an open position at your company. After sorting through resumes and interviewing four candidates, you hire the one you think will be the right fit for the job. Your new employee joins your team, and business continues as usual.
Three weeks later, you’re notified that one of the candidates you didn’t choose is suing you for discrimination. After reading this, you may think, “How is that even possible?”
Whether you are hiring your first employee or are looking to fill an existing position, there are certain things you should never ask a job candidate — even if the questions seem like innocent “small talk.”
To help protect you and your business during your next interview, we’re breaking down the questions you should steer clear of, courtesy of the experts at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The information below gives you a good launching point to reexamine your HR hiring practices and ensure you’re asking the right interview questions that won’t put you and your company at risk.
Just keep in mind that hiring rules and regulations can be complicated. They also can vary by situation. If you have specific questions or need professional input on what you can or cannot ask, it’s always best to consult a lawyer for legal advice tailored to your business or situation.
Questions You Should Never Ask in a Job Interview
Anything that has to do with a disability:
The Americans with Disabilities Act provides civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities and guarantees them equal opportunity across a spectrum of areas, including employment. So you legally cannot ask questions about an apparent disability, or ask questions fishing for one.
This includes questions like:
- Why do you need to use a wheelchair?
- How did you lose your vision?
- What medications do you take?
- Have you previously filed any workers’ compensation claims?
The exception to this rule has to do with accommodations. The EEOC states that you can ask questions about any accommodations that the candidate may need if the disability is apparent or if he or she already disclosed it to you, such as:
- If they need help with the application process, or if you need to make any adjustments to the process for them.
- If they will need a change to the work environment or to the way work is typically done for their job.
Anything concerning a job candidate’s genetic information:
It sounds a bit highbrow, but stay with us. The EEOC defines genetic information as “information about an individual’s genetic tests and the genetic tests of an individual’s family members, as well as information about the manifestation of a disease or disorder in an individual’s family members.”
This includes details such as family medical history or tests the candidate has undergone to identify risks for diseases like cancer. Asking these types of questions is considered genetic information discrimination.
The EEOC gives a few examples of what these could look like:
- Does anyone in your family have a history of mental illness?
- Has anyone in your family been diagnosed with a heart condition?
Anything related to the personal attributes of a job candidate:
You might think that you’re trying to get to know someone better, but characteristics like race, color, religion, sex and national origin are legally protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
You should avoid talking about these topics entirely. This includes questions like:
- Where do you go to church?
- Are you pregnant? Or are you planning on starting a family any time soon?
- How old are you? (Note: the only scenario in which you can ask this question is if you’re confirming that the candidate is legally old enough to do the job.)
- Your name is unusual. Where are you from?
- What kind of religious holidays do you observe?
- What language (or languages) do you speak at home?
- Are you biracial?
The bottom line is, if you’re on the fence about whether a question is appropriate, it’s probably best to avoid it. Instead, keep your questions focused on the requirements of the position for which you’re hiring.
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You’ve worked hard to build your business and your team. But these days, hiring, firing and day-to-day employee management can be risky. If a claim is made against your business, you could spend valuable time and resources defending it. And many business owners may not realize—or may realize too late—that they have a gap in their insurance coverage.
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