Steer Clear: What Not to Ask a Job Applicant

Job interviews are a crucial step in the hiring process. However, it’s essential to conduct interviews within the bounds of the law to avoid potential legal pitfalls. Federal laws, such as the Civil Rights Act and various state-specific anti-discrimination laws, strictly forbid employers from acquiring information about an individual’s protected class status. These protected classes typically include race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. These laws ensure that hiring decisions are based on an individual’s qualifications, skills, and experience rather than factors that could lead to discrimination or bias.

Never Ask These Questions

  1. Age, Birth, and Family Status
    These factors are irrelevant to a candidate's qualifications and can lead to age or gender discrimination. Instead, focus on questions related to their experience and skills. Legal Best Practice: Instead of asking, “How old are you?” or “Are you planning to have children soon?” consider asking, “Tell me about your relevant work experience and qualifications.”
  2. Disability and Health
    Inquiring about a candidate’s disability or health condition is prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar laws in other countries. Employers should not ask about medical history, prescription drugs, or past illnesses. Legal Best Practice: Instead of asking, “Do you have any disabilities or medical conditions?” ask questions like, “Can you perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodations?”
  3. Religion and Race
    Questions about a candidate's race, religion, or nationality can lead to discrimination claims. It’s essential to ensure that interview questions only focus on job-related factors. Legal Best Practice: Instead of asking, “What is your religion?” or “Where were you born?” ask questions like, “Do you have any experiences that have prepared you for this role in a multicultural
  4. Marital Status and Sexual Orientation
    Inquiries about a candidate’s marital status or sexual orientation are invasive and discriminatory. Avoid questions that pry into a candidate's personal life. Legal Best Practice: Instead of asking, “Are you married?” or “What is your sexual orientation?” ask questions like, “Do you have any commitments or obligations that may affect your availability to work specific hours?”
  5. Criminal History (without Context)
    While employers have the right to conduct background checks, asking about an applicant’s criminal history without providing context can be problematic. It’s essential to follow state and federal laws regarding criminal background checks. Legal Best Practice: Instead of asking, “Have you ever been arrested?” ask questions like, “Have you been convicted of a crime relevant to the position you are applying for? If so, please provide details.”

Good Interview Questions

  1. Behavioral Questions
    Ask candidates to describe specific situations they’ve encountered in their previous roles. These questions can help you gauge a candidate's skills, experience, and problem-solving abilities.
    • “Can you provide an example of a challenging project you’ve completed in a team?”
    • “Tell me about a time when you had to meet a tight deadline. How did you handle it?”
  2. Situational Questions
    Situational questions present hypothetical scenarios to assess how candidates would respond to challenges.
    • “If you were tasked with managing a project with conflicting priorities, how would you prioritize it?”
    • “Imagine a situation where a team member is not performing well. How would you address this?”
  3. Role-specific Questions
    These questions are tailored to the job's requirements and help assess a candidate’s technical skills and knowledge.
    • “Can you discuss your experience with [relevant software/tools] and how you’ve used them in previous roles?”
    • • “What is your approach to [specific task]?”
  4. Soft Skills and Culture Fit
    These questions can help you assess a candidate's compatibility with your organization’s values and
    work environment.
    • “Describe your preferred working style and how it aligns with our company culture.”
    • “Can you provide an example of a time when you had to adapt to a changing work environment or team dynamic?”
  5. Future Goals and Growth
    Understanding a candidate's career aspirations and how they align with the company’s goals can provide insights into their long-term commitment.
    • “Where do you see yourself professionally in the next five years?”
    • “How do you envision contributing to our company’s growth and success?”

Seeking Legal Guidance for Compliance and Protection

To ensure you stay compliant and avoid potential legal pitfalls, contact the legal professionals at Catalyst Legal. Our expertise can be an invaluable asset in creating fair and equal employment opportunities while safeguarding your organization from legal troubles.


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