Whether you’re responsible for hiring new employees at your workplace, or you’re an individual looking to hire a personal assistant, there are important things to know about interviewing candidates. Employers are restricted as to what questions they can ask and topics they can discuss with prospective employees. 

There are a number of prohibited interview questions—such as asking about a person’s nationality, U.S. citizenship or disability—that can infringe upon their rights as outlined in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are many topics that aren’t just inappropriate during a job interview—they’re illegal. What this means is that there is the potential for your company or organization to be held liable in a discrimination lawsuit.

As the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) states in their interview and application guidelines, there must be a “job related necessity” for the question you’re asking. Your intent, and how the information is being used, guides the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in determining if you have discriminated against that individual.

What Topics Should be Avoided During an Interview?

Anything that is personal, pertaining to race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual identity or sexual orientation should be avoided during a job interview. Do not ask about the person’s citizenship, disability, pregnancy status, age or genetic information, marital status or number of children.

Are there Any Other Topics You Should Steer Clear Of?

Although it isn’t prohibited by law, you should not bring up the subject of politics in a job interview. This subject may destroy any potential employment opportunity for an applicant, or the chance to hire a highly-skilled candidate, if they do not share your views. This is high on the list of what not to discuss.

In some states (such as New York) as well as certain cities, it is illegal to ask a job seeker about their current salary and salary history. Be aware of the local laws regarding salary questions. However, in these cases, it is acceptable to ask them about their salary expectations and desires.

A person’s vaccination status can also be a murky area. Rather than ask directly, it is better to state what your company’s vaccination policy is.

What Are Illegal Questions to Ask in an Interview?

Here are examples of illegal interview questions:

  • Where were you born?
  • Where is your accent from?
  • Are you going to want to take time off for religious holidays?
  • Do you plan to start a family?
  • When did you graduate from high school?
  • How old are your children?
  • How much longer do you plan to work?
  • How do you identify?
  • Have you been sick or hospitalized in the last year?

When screening candidates, these examples of inappropriate interview questions should be on your “do not ask” list. This is not an exhaustive list so make sure to refer to the “job related necessity” criteria we mention in the first paragraph.

How Do You Avoid Inappropriate Conversations During an Interview?

To avoid illegal interview questions and inappropriate conversation topics, think before you ask and be aware of how you’re phrasing the question. If the conversation is flowing, you might not realize that your seemingly innocuous question may be illegal.  

Other ways to avoid illegal and inappropriate questions interview questions:

  1. Don’t get too cozy. During a comfortable or more casual interview, where you’re trying to get to know the candidate better, you may end up leading the conversation into a more personal area by asking “where did you grow up” or “what does your husband do?” These types of questions should be avoided.
  2. Stay focused. Stick to safe questions and topics that are related to job skills, experience and behavioral related, so you can determine if the job candidate is a good cultural fit for your workplace. There are many questions you can ask about their work history and skill set that will give you a good picture of personality traits that will come into play in the workplace.
  3. Know how to change direction. Avoid going down a path that may lead to illegal interview questions by knowing how to change the subject or switch tracks to bring your conversation back to the job. If the candidate says she’s late due to soccer practice, assume that she drove her children and quickly change the subject. It may be natural to ask about her family, but this would be inappropriate. 

C-Suite is Your Best Hiring Resource for Top Talent

When you partner with C-Suite Assistants, we don’t just help you source, vet and schedule highly skilled candidates. We are a professional recruitment agency with a deep understanding of the entire hiring process, including local and federal regulations regarding appropriate questions in interviews. We can advise you throughout the interviewing and recruiting process to ensure that you don’t ask inappropriate questions and help protect your organization from potential liability.

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