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The 5 Questions That Are Illegal in Interviews

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Typically, when employers ask illegal interview questions, they aren’t even aware of their mistakes. Some interview questions may seem harmless; the interviewer may be innocently asking – simply to fill awkward silences or get to know someone better. However, these five questions are illegal to ask in an interview because they are discriminatory and violate state and federal laws.

Top Illegal Interview Questions

1. Where did you grow up?

This is the kind of question you’d ask someone you just met at a party, but it’s an illegal interview question. As an employer, you can’t discriminate against someone based on their national origin. Asking this question in a formal interview situation makes you appear narrow-minded and potentially even racist.

You’re not allowed to ask a candidate if he is a U.S. citizen, but you can ask if he is legally authorized to work in the United States.

2. Do you have a family?

Again, this one might seem innocent. After all, if you ran into an old friend from college, he might ask you this exact question, and you probably wouldn’t be offended. But in an interview, it’s illegal because you cannot base your hiring practices on someone’s marital or family status. At the same time, it might be nice to know if the candidate plans on having a baby and quitting her job next year, but it’s really none of your business. Avoid any questions about a candidate’s spouse, children, potential future children, child-care arrangements, etc.

3. Are you comfortable leading a team of male employees?

This one should be obvious. It’s one thing to ask a candidate if she’s comfortable managing people. But when you ask about managing men specifically, you’re implying that, as a woman, she might not be capable of the task, which is gender discrimination. While this example applies to a female candidate, you can’t ask a man the same kind of question in regards to managing or working with women—gender discrimination goes both ways.

4. What year did you graduate from high school?

Perhaps everything is going great with the interview, and you’ve lapsed into idle chit-chat. You think the candidate is roughly your age, so you ask this question as part of a conversation about music from the ’80s. Instead of fostering camaraderie, you just crossed the line and have opened yourself up to accusations of ageism. Don’t ask any question that would require the candidate to reveal his age.

5. Do you have to attend church on Sunday?

While you can certainly ask a potential employee about the hours they are available to work, you need to tread carefully to avoid asking a question that would require a candidate to reveal their religion. Asking someone if they need a holiday off because of their religion is not OK, for instance. It’s illegal to discriminate against someone based on religious beliefs.

Do Your Homework on Illegal Interview Questions

Before you start interviewing candidates for a job opening, do your homework about what’s legal and what’s not. Anti-discrimination laws protect particular classes of people who cannot be discriminated against during the hiring process based on the following characteristics:

  • National origin
  • Familial status
  • Disability status
  • Race
  • Color
  • Age (40 and over), but in some states, it’s 18 and over
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Veteran status
  • Genetic information

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