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Interview Questions you must never Ask
Interviewing this week?
What is an illegal Question?
Illegal interview questions refer to those questions asked during an interview that may be used to discriminate against an interviewee. It is important to be aware of what questions are illegal before you start an interview. In most cases, personal questions not related to job performance can be illegal interview questions, as they can be used to discriminate on the basis of a person's age, place of origin, birth place, etc.
If a candidate does not answer any illegal interview questions, you should not hold it against him, because it is his right.
And remember: The act of asking these questions is not illegal. But to reject someone on the basis of the answers provided is illegal. It could expose you to a possible law suit if the applicant is rejected and feels that it was due to that issue.
Relatives Marital Status
Unlawful Inquiries: Whether the applicant is married, divorced, separated, engaged, widowed, etc. "What is your marital status?", if over 18 "What is the name of relative/spouse/children?", "With whom do you reside?", "Do you live with your parents?", "How old are your children?"
Lawful Inquiries: "What are the names of relatives already employed by the company or a competitor?", other than that specific question, NONE.
Unlawful Inquiries: All questions relating to pregnancy and medical history concerning pregnancy. "Do you plan on having more children?"
Lawful Inquiries: Inquiries to a duration of stay on a job or anticipated absences which are made to males and females alike. "Do you foresee any long term absences in the future?"
Unlawful Inquiries: Names or relationship of persons with whom applicant resides. Whether applicant owns or rents a home.
"Do you live in town?"
Lawful Inquiries: Inquiries about address to the extent needed to facilitate contacting the applicant. (A post office box is a valid address.) "Will you have problems getting to work at 9am?" is also legal.
Unlawful Inquiries: Over general questions ("Do you have any handicaps?") which would tend to divulge handicaps or health conditions which do not relate reasonably to fitness to perform the job. "What caused your handicap?", "What is the prognosis of your handicap?", Have you ever had any serious illness?", "Do you have any physical disabilities?"
Lawful Inquiries: "Can you lift 40 lbs?", "Do you need any special accommodations to perform the job you've applied for?", "How many days did you miss from work (or school) in the past year?" The questions have to relate to the job.
Unlawful Inquiries: Questions concerning spouse, or spouse's employment, salary, child care, arrangements, or dependents. "How will your husband feel about the amount of time you will be travelling if you get this job?", "What kind of childcare arrangements have you made?"
Lawful Inquiries: Whether applicant can meet specified work schedules or has activities or commitments that may prevent him or her from meeting attendance requirements. "Can you work overtime?", "Is there any reason why you can't be on the job at 7:30 am?"
Unlawful Inquiries: Any inquiry. "Do you wish to be addressed as Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms.?" or ANY inquiry as to sex such as "Do you have the capacity to reproduce?", "What are your plans to have children in the future?"
Lawful Inquiries: None
Unlawful Inquiries: Any question asking specifically the nationality, racial or religious affiliation of a school.
Lawful Inquiries: All questions related to academic, vocational or professional education of an applicant, including the names of the schools attended, degrees/diplomas received, dates of graduation and courses of study.
Arrests & Convictions
Unlawful Inquiries: All inquiries relating to arrests. "Have you ever been arrested?" (Note: Arrests are NOT the same as convictions. An innocent person can be arrested, remember.)
Lawful Inquiries: None relating to arrests. Legal inquiries about convictions are: "Have you ever been convicted of any crime? If so, when, where and disposition of case. "Have you ever been convicted under criminal law within the past five years (excluding minor traffic violations)?" It is permissible to inquire about convictions for acts of dishonesty or breach of trust. These relate to fitness to perform the particular job being applied for, as stipulated by FDIC requirements.
Birthplace and religion
Let's now look at some illegal interview questions. Inquiries into a person's birthplace are illegal. Also asking a person's religious affiliation is illegal, or asking about religious customs and ceremonies.
Unlawful Inquiries: Any question that directly or INDIRECTLY relates to a religion. "What religious holidays to you observe?", "What is your religious affiliation?"
Lawful Inquiries: None except "Can you work on Saturdays?", and that only if it relevant to the job.
If an individual's disability does not hinder job performance, it is not permissible to dismiss the person for that reason.
Age...height or weight
It is illegal to ask for age, but it is ok to ask for a confirmation of age after hiring. Illegal interview questions include asking about a person's height or weight. However you can ask if a person is able to lift a certain amount of weight necessary for job performance.
Unlawful Inquiries: Any questions that tends to identify applicants age 40 or older.
Lawful Inquiries: "Are you 18 years of age?", "If hired, can you furnish proof of age?"
Race or color
Asking about a person's race or color is also illegal. Exceptions hold for employment records for an equal opportunity employer and for affricative action status, after hiring.
Unlawful Inquiries: Any question that directly OR INDIRECTLY relates to a race or color.
Lawful Inquiries: None
Unlawful Inquiries: Whether an applicant is a citizen. Requiring a birth certificate, naturalization or baptismal certificate. Any inquiry into citizenship would tend to divulge applicant's lineage, descent, etc.
* "Are you a citizen of the US?"
Lawful Inquiries: Whether applicant is prevented from lawfully employed in this country because of visa or immigration requirements. Whether applicant can provide proof of citizenship (passport), visa, alien registration number after hiring. "If you are not a US citizen, do you have the legal right to remain permanently in the US?", "What is your visa status (if no to the previous question.)", Are you able to provide proof of employment eligibility upon hire?"
Unlawful Inquiries: Everything. "What is your nationality?", "How did you acquire the ability to speak, read or write a foreign language?", "How did you acquire familiarity with a foreign country?", "What language is spoken in your home?", "What is your mother tongue?"
Lawful Inquiries: "What languages do you speak, read or write fluently". This is only legal when the inquiry is based on a job requirement.
And remember this...
The questions do not necessarily have to be asked in a direct fashion to be illegal interview questions.
Some questions may be illegal based on the reason they were asked.
For example it is legal to ask if the applicant is fluent in another language if it is relevant to the job.
However it should not be asked if it is not relevant to the job and is used to gain information about a person's nationality or place of birth.
Avoiding illegal interview questions avoid the chances of a candidate being discriminated against. Also it can save you from possible law suits.
This article applies to the USA. Most countries now hold similar laws but check for further details
If unsure, always seek professional legal advice
This is just a guide and not intended as legal advice. Neither the author nor publisher is engaged in rendering legal services. Please see an attorney for legal advice. Because laws vary by state and are subject to change at the Federal level, neither the author nor publisher guarantees the accuracy of this information. Should you act based on this information, you do so at your sole risk. Neither the author nor publisher shall have any liability arising from your decision to act on this information.
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Copyright 2005 interview Questions
Susan O'Neill, Chief Interview Advisor