What You Can't Ask in an Employee Interview

Learn the important rules around what you can and can't ask in an interview.

Even though you need to ask a lot of questions to conduct aneffective job interview, you cannot just ask anything. Certainquestions are legally forbidden, and asking them can lead to adiscrimination lawsuit.

Asking questions without the intent of using the answer todiscriminate against potential employees is no defense.Furthermore, even if someone volunteers information during theinterview that could lead to discrimination, you can still be heldliable. For that reason, never write down any information thatfalls into the categories of questions covered below or into anyothers you may believe could get you into legal trouble. In thesecircumstances, state that the volunteered information is notrelevant to the interview and move on.

Luckily, you can easily avoid legal trouble by avoiding certainkinds of questions. Most of the forbidden questions are non-jobrelated and you can keep yourself within legal bounds by stickingto professional topic in an interview.

Questions to steer clear of include:

How old are you?
People over 40 are protected by state and federal law to preventage discrimination and therefore you may not inquire about acandidate's age. Because most people graduate from high schoolat age 17 or 18, you may also not ask the year someone graduatedfrom high school. However, you may ask about year of graduationfrom college because people attend college at different stages oflife.

Are you married?
Leave this kind of question for getting acquainted after an offerhas been extended.

Are you a citizen?
Although you will need to verify that someone is a citizen in orderto hire them legally, you cannot find out by asking this question.You may ask it another way however: "Could you, afteremployment, submit verification of your legal right to work in theUnited States?"

Are you planning on having children soon?
You may describe job requirements including travel, overtime andhours, and ask candidates if they have any reason they cannot meetthe requirements, but you may not ask about plans forchildbearing.

May I have your maiden name?
Because knowing a maiden name may provide information aboutsomeone's national origin, it opens you up to charges ofdiscrimination. Likewise, you cannot ask for the name of a relativeto contact in case of emergency. You may ask for someone to contactas long as you do not stipulate that the person be a relative.

Are you disabled? Do you have any medical problems? Have youever filed for worker's compensation?
The 1992 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits jobdiscrimination based on disabilities of any kind. The questionslisted above are just a few examples. It is safest to assume thatyou cannot ask questions about a person's health or physicalcapabilities. What you may do is describe job responsibilities andask the candidate if he/she is capable of performing the jobfunctions "with or without accommodation?"

The viewsand opinions contained herein are not necessarily those of AmericanExpress and are intended as a reference and for informationalpurposes only. Please contact your attorney, accountant or otherbusiness professional for advice specific to yourbusiness.

Copyright © 2002 American Express Company. All RightsReserved.

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