The job interview is a vital element of the employee selection process. When you ask the right questions, you can ascertain whether your candidate is a good cultural fit for the vacancy you’re filling.
However, there are certain interview questions, which while not illegal in the strictest sense of the word, could expose a company to a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit.
It’s important to avoid asking any direct questions about a candidate’s personal information such as age, medical history, race, gender, citizenship status, religion, disability, pregnancy, or marital status.
Therefore, it’s not advisable to take candidates out for an informal interview at lunch or dinner because it’s easy for it to turn into a chat where you end up asking the candidate to reveal personal information.
Interview Questions Every Employer Should Avoid
Seemingly innocuous interview questions can land the whole enterprise in hot soup even if they were asked out of good faith or because their answers are relevant to the job. About one in five employers have inadvertently asked an illegal question in a job interview, a CareerBuilder survey found.
A relatively new pitfall to watch out for is asking about past compensation. Salary history bans have recently been introduced in various states and cities to address the historically prevalent gender pay inequality.
These bans prohibit employers from asking applicants about their current or past salaries or benefits as well as using an agent, asking previous employers or doing a public search to find out this information.
In addition to salary history, below we explore 20 of the most common illegal questions, and a legal alternative for each:
1. Are you a U.S. citizen?
Alternative: Do you have authorization to work in the U.S.?
2. Is English your first language?
Alternative: What languages are you fluent in reading, speaking or writing?
3. What religion do you practice?
Alternative: On which days are you available to work?
4. Which religious holidays do you observe?
Alternative: Are you in a position to stick to our required schedule?
5. How old are you?
Alternative: Are you at least 18 years of age?
6. How soon do you plan to retire?
Alternative: What long-term career goals are you looking to achieve?
7. Do you have or plan to have children?
Alternative: We’ll need you to travel or work overtime on short notice. Can you make this work?
8. This job is usually done by a man/woman. Will you handle it?
Alternative: What unique value do you have to offer our company as an individual?
9. What is your opinion on interoffice dating?
Alternative: Has you ever received disciplinary actions due to your behavior at work?
10. Do you smoke or drink?
Alternative: Have you ever been disciplined for violating company alcohol or tobacco policies?
11. Do you take drugs?
Alternative: Do you use any illicit drugs?
12. How tall are you?
Alternative: Can you reach items on a shelf that's six feet tall?
13. Are you strong enough for this job?
Alternative: Can you lift boxes that weigh at least 50 pounds?
14. How many sick days did you take last year?
Alternative: How many days of work did you miss last year?
15. Do you have any disabilities?
Alternative: Are you in a position to perform the specific duties of this position?
16. How far is your commute?
Alternative: Do you have reliable transportation to report for work every day at 8 a.m.?
17. Do you live nearby?
Alternative: Would you be willing to relocate?
18. Have you ever been arrested?
Alternative: Have you ever been convicted of "[insert crime]"? (e.g. fraud, theft, etc.)
19. Were you honorably discharged from the military?
Alternative: Of what benefit can your experience in the military be to the company?
20. Are you a member of the National Guard or Reserves?
Alternative: Do you have any upcoming events that will need you to take time away from work?
Watch out! Don’t dig a hole for yourself
As shown above, phrasing an illegal question can take away the risk of a lawsuit. As an employer, you often do need to know some personal info about the candidate but you must be careful how you seek it.
Let the professionals at ASB Resources guide you in interviewing your candidates while ensuring that you don’t inadvertently ask an illegal interview question. Schedule a call with one of our experts today!