10 Questions You Can’t Ask During Interviews

interview

As a small business owner, you want to hire the best people. During job interviews at your custom steel building, it’s your job to learn everything you can about the people you want to bring on board. But, are you asking all the right questions? Or even worse, could you be asking the wrong ones – questions which are illegal?

Under the laws enforced by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it’s illegal to discriminate against someone because of that person’s race, color, religion, sex, including pregnancy, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. I’ll refer to the EEOC and their stance on work discrimination several times in this blog.

As you look for help, it’s to your benefit to be a smart interviewer. But what questions are off-limits, and what is considered fair play? Here are 10 questions you should never ask someone at a job interview.

  1. “How old are you?”

Employers can’t ask about age, how long someone has been working, birthdays, or when a person graduated high school. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects people over the age of 40 when it comes to hiring, firing, pay, assignments or any other aspect of job service. The ADEA doesn’t protect workers under the age of 40, but some states have laws that safeguard younger employees.

Instead, ask: “If hired, can you furnish proof of age?”

  1. “Have you ever been arrested?”

It is illegal to ask about arrests without convictions. A person is innocent until proven guilty, so it’s out of line for you to ask a prospective employee if they have been arrested. The EEOC says, “The fact that an individual was arrested is not proof that he/she engaged in criminal conduct. In contrast, a conviction record will usually be sufficient to demonstrate that a person engaged in particular criminal conduct.”

Instead, it is legal to ask about convictions. In most states, a conviction record shouldn’t automatically disqualify someone from employment.

  1. “Are you married, or do you have children?”

This is one of the questions that interviewers let slip the most. While possibly innocent, you can’t ask this question with the intent to learn more about the prospect’s time commitment. You can’t ask if the person has a family, or has the intention of starting one in the future. It’s also considered wrong because marital status could accidentally reveal sexual orientation.

Instead, ask: “Can you meet the specified work schedules and responsibilities of this position?”

  1. “What is your heritage/nationality?”

Any questions about an interviewee’s national origin are illegal. In addition, an interviewer can’t ask what other country a person holds citizenship in, or even what type of accent the person is using. Any intimate questions about a person’s heritage are off-limits. Only after hiring can you require proof of U.S. citizenship.

Instead, ask: “Are you eligible to work in the U.S.?”

  1. “Do you have a disability?”

This is a big no-no. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 protects the civil rights of those living with disabilities. Don’t ask about the nature or severity of the disability, either. Keep this rule of thumb in mind: Ask people about their abilities, not about their disabilities.

Instead, ask: “Are you able to carry out the necessary job functions safely?” The EEOC states, “Employers may ask if the applicant will need an accommodation to perform a specific job duty, and if the answer is yes, the employer may then ask what the accommodation would be.”

  1. “What is your religion?”

Any question that brings up a person’s religion is against the law. There shouldn’t be a reason you need to ask a person their religious affiliation or what holidays they observe as a means to determine if they are available to work a specific schedule.

Instead, advise the applicant the normal work hours required by the job to avoid possible conflicts.

  1. “What is your height/weight?”

Again, the EEOC weighs in on this type of discrimination. “Height and weight requirements tend to excessively limit the employment opportunities of some protected groups and unless the employer can demonstrate how the need is related to the job, it may be viewed as illegal under federal law.” Don’t ask how tall the person is or how much they weigh.

Instead, ask: “Are you comfortable performing said task?

  1. “When was the last time you used illegal drugs?”

You can’t ask about drug history or the past drug addiction of the person sitting across the desk from you.

Instead, ask: “Will you submit to a drug screening required for this position?” The ADEA doesn’t protect people currently using drugs.

  1. “What type of military discharge did you receive?”

Don’t ask about the person’s discharge status, military records, or military status in any country other than the U.S.

Instead, ask: “Can we discuss the skills you learned while in the military?”

10. “Do you have any outstanding debt?”

Interestingly enough, you can’t ask any questions regarding credit, or hold their credit history against them. If an employer is interested in a person’s financial situation, they must ask permission before getting a credit check. Any questions about personal finances or assets are forbidden.

Instead, stay away from this topic completely.

It’s up to the interviewee to spot these examples, and they have the right not to answer. If the interviewee volunteers this information willingly, you’re in the clear. But it also helps to be a good interviewer and not put your potential employees through the wringer, unnecessarily. We realize the good intentions behind some of these questions and, ultimately, you ask them to get to know a person. But paying attention to this information could prevent a potential lawsuit in the future. Before you have an interview at your custom steel building, use this blog as a guide!

Photo courtesy: Samuel Mann

 

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