Your goal in every job interview is to obtain pertinent information, and most interviewers attempt to build friendly rapport with candidates to alleviate a stressful situation. But by trying to be friendly, you may cross the line into potential lawsuit territory. Protect yourself and your company from legal trouble by avoiding the wrong questions while still addressing the concern behind the question.
Here's a quick overview of the kinds of questions you're not legally allowed to ask, and the kinds you are:
You cannot legally ask: "How old are you or when do you plan to retire?" You're not allowed to ask someone's age, but you can ask younger people if they're old enough to work for you and older ones whether they plan to work for more than a few years.
You CAN legally ask: "Are you over 18?" or "What are your long-term career goals?"
You cannot legally ask: "Do you have kids?" Questions regarding pregnancy and children are prohibited under federal law, even if you’re simply trying to make small talk. So are questions about marital status. But if you have a legitimate reason for wondering if they can manage travel or flexible hours, rephrase it.
You CAN legally ask: "Are you willing to travel for this position?" or “Do you have any commitments that could prevent you from following the schedule we discussed?”
You cannot legally ask: "Are you a U.S. citizen?"
Sometimes this is innocently phrased as, “Where did you grow up?” or "Where are you from?" Avoid such questions. Asking a candidate anything relating to their national origin is illegal. You also can't ask someone about his accent or the ethnicity of his last name. If you do, and you don’t hire the person, you can be charged with discrimination. If national origin is of concern to you, rephrase the question.
You CAN legally ask: "Are you legally authorized to work in the U.S.?"
(And don't directly ask if they have a work visa—it's HR's job to worry about paperwork.)
You cannot legally ask: "Have you ever been arrested?" In general, you can't ask someone about his criminal background. It's only appropriate to ask about criminal behavior that's directly related to the specific field or career in which the person is applying. Do your research and phrase the question neutrally.
You CAN legally ask: "Have you ever been convicted of [fill in the blank]?"
You cannot legally ask: "Do you have any disabilities?" Physical or mental disabilities may adversely impact a candidate’s ability to perform a job, but you can't ask about them. To avoid discrimination, phrase the question so it's about the candidate’s ability to carry out job responsibilities.
You CAN legally ask: "Are you able to perform the specific duties of this position, with or without reasonable accommodations?"
Overall, you'll protect yourself and your organization from legal trouble by carefully planning your interview questions, sticking to the script and avoiding chit-chat that can lead to a candidate getting the wrong idea. And if you'd like to avoid legal issues related to payroll or human resources, contact Complete Payroll today.