By: Daniel Abramson
Managing Lead of HRSource
Guidelines by the Equal Employment Opportunity commission (EEOC), as well as federal and state law, prohibit asking job applicants certain questions, whether on the application form or during the job interview.
It is also illegal for an employer to discriminate against a job applicant due to race, color, religion, age, national origin, disability, or sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy).
With those in mind, here are some prime examples of interview questions that are illegal to ask, along with alternative inquiries that are permissible. (Please note: if you have questions or require clarification, it’s probably best toc heck with your attorney or legal department.)
Unlawful: It is illegal to ask whether the applicant is married, divorced, separated, engaged, or widowed, or for any details about their relatives. “What is your marital status?” “What is the name of your relative/spouse/children?” “How old are your children?” – these are all no-no’s.
Lawful: You may ask, “What are the names of relatives already employed by the company or a competitor?” Anything other than this specific question is off limits.
Unlawful: All questions relating to pregnancy, or medical history concerning pregnancy, are verboten, including “Do you plan on having more children?”
Lawful: It’s okay to ask how long the applicant plans to remain in the job, and to inquire about anticipated absences that apply to males and females alike.
Unlawful: You can’t ask questions that seek to determine whether applicants are 40 years old or older, which smacks of age discrimination.
Lawful: You may, however, ask, “Are you at least 18 years of age?” or, “If hired, can you furnish proof of age?”
Unlawful: Any inquiries related to this topic are prohibited. “What is your nationality?” “What language is spoken in your home?” “What is your mother tongue?” – these are all illegal to ask.
Lawful: You may ask, “Which languages do you speak, read, or write fluently?” but only when the inquiry is based on a job requirement.
HEIGHT AND WEIGHT
Unlawful: Any inquiries that aren’t based on actual job requirements are off the table.
Lawful: Inquiries about the ability to perform a particular job are permissible. A specific weight or height range will not be considered a job requirement unless the employer can show that no employee outside those parameters could do the work.
Unlawful: You cannot ask which organizations, clubs, societies, or lodges the candidate belongs to.
Lawful: Rather, your inquiry must relate only to the applicant’s professional qualifications, such as, “Do you belong to any professional organizations?”
ARRESTS AND CONVICTIONS
Unlawful: All inquiries relating to arrests are off limits. For example, it is illegal to ask, “Have you ever been arrested?”
Lawful: However, it is legal to inquire about convictions. For example, it’s okay to ask whether the candidate has ever been convicted of a crime, and to inquire about the disposition of the case. Also allowable is, “Have you been convicted under criminal law within the past five years, excluding minor traffic violations?”
RACE OR COLOR
Unlawful: Any question that directly or indirectly relates to race or color is illegal, period.
Unlawful: It is illegal to ask any question that relates directly or indirectly to a religion.
Lawful: In fact, the only question you may ask on this topic is, “Can you work on Saturdays or Sundays?” – and then only if this is a requirement of the job.