by Amy Kirkegaard
Finding the right employee for the right position can be challenging. Even if a candidate’s resume looks good, it’s hard to know if a person is truly qualified for the position or whether they will be a good fit within your company.
Interviews can be challenging both for the interviewer and the interviewee.
Spending time with a candidate during an interview is helpful, but even then, it’s hard to learn as much about the person you would like. To get the most out of the interview, you should prepare in advance, and know which questions you’re allowed to ask. If you ask a wrong question, you and your company could end up in a legal mess.
Next time you’re preparing to interview a potential employee, look these questions over and be sure not to ask any of them during the meeting.
What is your race? What is your nationality? Are you a U.S. citizen?
You are not allowed to ask about a candidate’s nationality, race, citizenship, or immigration status. After the candidate has accepted a job offer, he or she can complete an I-9. This is a government form used to verify the identity and employment authorization of each new employee to work in the United States.
Are you married? What is your maiden name?
A candidate’s marital status has no effect on job performance. You may think a married candidate is more likely to move away if their spouse gets transferred to another city. Likewise, you may assume an unmarried candidate’s social life will be a distraction. Either way, questions about marital status are off limits.
Do you have children? Do you plan to have children? Are you expecting?
Children can be time-consuming and may cause disruption at work if they are sick or involved in extracurricular activities. Don’t ask about children, even if you saw the candidate pull up in a minivan with a bumper sticker showing double strollers personalized with her kids’ names. Doing so may land you in the middle of a discrimination lawsuit.
How old are you? Do you plan to retire soon?
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects applicants over the age of 40 from being discriminated against. While you may not want to invest in training a new employee you think is close to retirement, the question remains off limits. You may verify that the candidate is legally old enough to work by asking “The minimum age for this position is 18 years old. If offered a position, will you be able to verify you meet this requirement?”
Do you have any disabilities? Have you had any major illnesses or operations?
An interviewee’s medical history is private, and cannot be used against them in the hiring process. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can be confusing. Even though you are responsible for making sure an employee is physically able to perform the functions of the job, you can’t ask about disabilities or illnesses during the hiring process. A good rule of thumb is to ask candidates about abilities, not disabilities.
What is your religion? What organizations do you belong to?
A potential candidate’s religious beliefs cannot be used to intentionally discriminate against them. While you may want to know if a candidate practices a religion that prevents them for working certain days of the week, the question is off limits. Likewise, information about clubs or organizations cannot be used to discriminate against a potential candidate, since many groups are politically or socially aligned.
Were you honorably discharged from the military? Are you a member of the National Guard or Reserves?
You cannot ask about the type of discharge a service member received. Also, being a member of the National Guard or Reserves will likely interfere with work, whether for drill weekend, annual training, or being called up for active service. But you can’t discriminate against men and women serving in the military.
If you think you will have trouble remembering which questions are legal, create an interview template to use for all your interviews. This will help keep you and your company out of legal trouble.
Amy Kirkegaard is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics, including money-saving ideas, shopping on a budget, and profiles of prominent individuals such as Charles Phillips. She previously worked in marketing and human resources for an oilfield equipment manufacturer.