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Illegal Job Interview Questions You're Probably Asking Applicants

As an interviewer for your business, it is your job to get to know potential new hires before offering them a position at your company. After all, in order to keep everyone happy and your business healthy, the right team members need to be a part of it. Learning who is a right or wrong fit means asking them a lot of questions about their previous experience, career goal, and more.

You can’t just ask whatever you want, though. State and federal employment laws have set up some clear boundaries around what you can and cannot ask. Yet, a large percentage of all employers don’t know these limitations and inadvertently ask illegal questions, landing their company in legal trouble.

Here’s a list of common yet illegal interview questions and what to say instead:

  1. “Are you pregnant, or planning on having any kids?”
    1. Why it is illegal: Asking a woman or a man if they have kids indicates that you believe their status as a parent will interfere with their job. In the past, many women were denied employment just for having a child, which is why this question is now illegal.
    2. What to say instead: Ask this applicant and all applicants if a regular work schedule will not be a problem for them. This will likely reveal any potential concerns about a busy parent, such as needing to leave at 2:00 PM on weekdays to pick up children from school.
  2. “Are you an American citizen?”
    1. Why it is illegal: National origin and citizenship cannot be weighed when determining to hire someone.
    2. What to say instead: You need to ask every applicant if they are legally able to be employed in the country.
  3. “How old are you, or what year were you born?”
    1. Why it is illegal: Ageism is a major concern in employment law, especially in recent years as baby boomers are forced out of retirement and back into the workplace.
    2. What to say instead: You can ask each applicant if he or she is over 18, as some places of employment have activities deemed too dangerous for minors. Asking for birthdates on written applications is a gray area; talk to an employment lawyer before adding it to your application process.
  4. “Where do you live, or do you live far from here?”
    1. Why it is illegal: Many states bar employers from asking where someone lives and making a hiring choice based on that answer.
    2. What to say instead: If location is a concern for your business, perhaps due to the fact that your company might be moving soon, you can ask each applicant if relocation would be a problem.
  5. “Have you ever been arrested for a crime?”
    1. Why it is illegal: Applicants do not need to disclose their criminal history to an employer unless it is a conviction that is accessible through public records.
    2. What to say instead: Ask every candidate whether or not he or she has been convicted of a crime. Remember that arrests, charges, and traffic citations are not your legal concern.
  6. “Are you disabled, or mentally or physically debilitated?”
    1. Why it is illegal: Medical disabilities are generally protected by federal law and cannot be called directly into question in interviews.
    2. What to say instead: You can ask all candidates if he or she can perform all necessary job functions that would be expected of them, with or without reasonable accommodations. For jobs that require frequent and specific physical labor, you can ask something like, “Can you lift 50 pounds regularly?” Make certain that the inquiry is necessary for the job.
  7. “What religion do you practice?”
    1. Why it is illegal: Religious discrimination is strictly off-limits in all states and under federal law.
    2. What to say instead: Some employers have reservations about religious employees only due to scheduling conflicts with common religious practices. Ask any and all applicants if they are open to schedule changes, or if they can work weekends.

Buckley Beal LLP and our Atlanta employment law attorneys can provide legal counsel for any potential-employee who has been asked an illegal employment law question during an interview. We are also renowned business law attorneys and can be legal guides for companies big and small who have encountered a legal issue following an interview. Call 404.471.3725 today to get an initial consult with our team.

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