It’s perfectly understandable that employers want to get as much information about potential new hires before making an offer. You want to limit your short list, cut back on the need for a pre-employment check for each one, and minimize the number of employee reference checks you need to conduct. After all, there are all sorts of horror stories about bad hires out there. However, while it is understandable that you want to ask as many questions as possible, there are several that you could get into big trouble for asking.
You’re not alone either. Studies have shown that up to 20% of interviewers have asked an inappropriate question during an interview. Here are some that you will want to avoid:
Religious affiliation. It is illegal to discriminate against candidates based on their religious affiliation or lack thereof. The only exception to this rule would be where religion is a core element of the job, for example, if you were hiring a religious leader for a church or similar organization.
Pregnancy and family plans. You cannot discriminate against a potential hire because they are pregnant or because they plan to become pregnant. Similarly, it’s illegal to discriminate against candidates for having or not having children.
Questions about race, color or ethnicity. Again, you cannot choose whether to hire or not hire a candidate based on their race or ethnicity.
Political affiliation. You can get into a lot of trouble if you choose to hire or not hire based on politics. Don’t even make small talk about politics!
Age, disability or marital status. Unless these play a direct role in the job, you have no business asking them. An exception would be, for instance, where a job requires the candidate to climb ladders, and they are in a wheelchair. If the disability is directly opposed to being able to carry out the job, and there is no means of working around that requirement, then a disability may be a factor in hiring.
Drinking or smoking. As long as your candidates are above the legal age of consent, and as long as they are not involved in illegal drugs, their social drinking or smoking habits cannot be a factor in your hiring decisions.
Financial record: Unless the job is related to finance, and credit scores and bankruptcy history are a direct requirement for the position, there’s no reason to ask a candidate about their financial situation.
Documentation and qualifications unless relevant. It’s reasonable to ask whether your prospective employee has a degree or certification that is required for the job. It’s not reasonable to ask about something like a driver’s license unless the job specifically requires driving.
Basically, any question that may result in information that could be perceived as leading to discrimination can cause problems later on.
When in Doubt, Don’t
These are some of the more common illegal interview questions employers ask prospective employees, but they’re not the only ones. There are many other questions that can get you in hot water, depending on the context.
If there’s any doubt at all about the legitimacy of a question, rather don’t ask it. It’s better to hire professionals to conduct pre-employment checks and background screenings, and avoid the potential legal minefield that asking the wrong questions can result in than to take a chance.
Remember, it’s becoming more common for prospective employees to sue potential employers who didn’t hire them based on discrimination. If you want to avoid that sort of litigation, you need to avoid even the perception of discrimination. It’ll save you time, money and headaches in the long term.