Employment Interview Laws

Written by amy wolffing
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Human resources professionals should know which questions cannot be asked during a job interview, but smaller companies without a formal HR department may sometimes inadvertently ask illegal job interview questions. Employment interview laws are very specific and, in general, during a job interview, the candidate should never be asked about age, race, national origin, marital or parental status, or disabilities.

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Employment Interview Laws
While it used to be OK to ask job candidates anything, times have changed. ("George! That's a Gas!" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: foundphotoslj under the Creative Commons Attribution license.)

Questions About Age

Hiring managers should never ask a candidate, "How old are you?" If the job is physically demanding, it is OK to ask the person if he can lift a certain weight or perform other tasks, but all questions must relate directly to the job responsibilities. And do not try to ask around the question, such as asking when he graduated high school or college.

Race or National Origin

"Where were you born?" is an example of an illegal job interview question. If someone wants to volunteer that she is from another country, that is fine, but do not ask directly. Similarly, do not ask about her native language. You can ask if she is authorized to work in the United States, and if the job requires strong language skills, you can offer a formal skills test. If the job requires someone who is bilingual, it is fair to ask her if she speaks Spanish.

Religion

Do not ask a job candidate if they celebrate a specific religious holiday such as Christmas or Yom Kippur. If you are concerned about a person's availability to work on evenings or weekends, you can inquire about that, but not a specific holiday.

Marital, Family or Parental Status

"Are you married?" Here's a question that seems reasonable, but it is an illegal job interview question. Keep all questions focused on job responsibilities. You can ask about how flexible he is with his schedule or whether she would be able to come in at the last minute during an emergency. But you cannot ask if the candidate is married, has children or is a caregiver. In addition, do not ask women if they plan on having children.

Health and Wellness

Asking someone directly about disabilities or chronic illnesses is off limits. Employment law clearly states that a manager can only ask about job responsibilities. As with age, you can ask if he can meet the physical demands of the job, such as installing equipment, laying wires or cables, crawling in tight spaces and so on. Related to this area, steer clear of questions about smoking and drinking alcohol.

Politics or the Military

While asking "Whom did you vote for?" is an obvious no-no, so is asking if the candidate is in the military. Some companies may avoid hiring someone if they know that he may be deployed.

What to Do if Asked Illegal Job Interview Questions

When someone asks an illegal job interview question, it is usually an innocent mistake. The hiring manager may just forget and treat the interview as a conversation, especially if they are new at interviewing or haven't done it in some time. When asked an illegal question and if the question does not seem offensive, you can simply answer it. You may also ask how the question relates to the job or point out that it is illegal and refuse to answer. If the question is offensive, you can terminate the interview. If you feel as though the questions were blatantly illegal, you may want to contact your local labor relations organization.

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