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Are you Asking Candidates Illegal Interview Questions?

Are you Asking Candidates Illegal Interview Questions?

17933640_sIf you want to get caught in the hot seat and have a laser spotlight on your company (not in a good way), ask questions during recruiting like the NFL asked of University of Colorado football player Nick Kasa: “Do you like girls?” Otherwise, you need to conduct employment interviews without asking illegal interview questions. That means planning legal interview questions about information related to job performance and avoiding questions about information that can lead to bias in hiring.


Laws About Discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces laws that make it illegal to discriminate against protected categories of candidates. Those include age, race, color, creed, national origin, gender, disability, and genetic characteristics. Other categories protected under state law may include sexual orientation and marital status. Specific laws against discrimination in employment include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Avoiding illegal interview questions means not asking for information in these areas. The interview process is a pre-hire activity and anything asked in the recruiting process suggests that hiring decisions will be made based on the information uncovered from it. Asking candidates about things like their age, religious practices, or marital status gives the impression that the hiring decision will be based on the candidate’s answers, leading to legal liability.


Legal Versus Illegal Interview Questions

If you’re not totally clear about legal interview questions and illegal interview questions, you’re not alone. CareerBuilder found that one in five employers asks illegal interview questions unknowingly, and at least one third of hiring managers couldn’t tell if interview questions were legal or illegal. A good guide to use when interviewing is to use only questions that demonstrate job-related necessity for asking them, and do not use questions that could be used to screen out minorities or members of one sex.

While the EEOC has guidelines for employers regarding what they can ask legally about criminal records, there are many other areas that are off-limits during employment interviews. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reminds employers that even harmless intentions with illegal interview questions can lead to risk of legal action if candidates feel interview questions discriminate against them.


Interview Without Asking Illegal Interview Questions

Anti-discrimination legislation can complicate interviewing, but it’s important to be careful about illegal interview questions. Asking questions in a different way can reveal the information you need to know, such as a candidate’s competence and ability for the role, without asking illegal interview questions about someone’s personal life that don’t have a business basis.

Common areas that employers get into trouble with in interviews include place of birth, ethnicity, religion, marital status, children, sexual preference, gender, age, disability, illness, lifestyle choices, and height and weight. Ask only about things that pertain to business need to avoid illegal interview questions.

Here are a few examples of how to ask legal interview questions in these areas:

Avoid Asking: Where are you from?
Ask Instead: Are you eligible to work in the United States?

Avoid Asking: What religion do you practice?
Ask Instead: Are you able/available to work the schedule required for the job?

Avoid Asking: Do you have children or are you planning a family? Do you have reliable childcare?
Ask Instead: What is your availability to work overtime and travel?

Avoid Asking:  How old are you?
Ask Instead: Are you over 18?

Leslye Schumacher of TalentQ Consulting recommends that talent managers have prepared questions so they ask the same questions of all candidates to avoid discrimination. Recruiting expert Lou Adler recommends basing hiring decisions on just one question: “What single project or task would you consider your most significant accomplishment in your career to date?” That bypasses illegal interview questions altogether and puts the focus squarely on business need and individual competency and experience.