Business acumen | Top 10 Illegal Interview Questions – Times-Standard

Need to hire more workers quickly? Don’t be caught off guard in your rush to hire! Asking the wrong interview questions or having an inappropriate discussion of a candidate’s personal life can expose your company to costly litigation! Here is a list of the top 10 banned interviews you should never ask!

  1. How old are you?
  2. Are you married?
  3. Do you have children?
  4. Are you pregnant? Do you plan to have children soon?
  5. Do you have any disabilities or health issues?
  6. How much do you weigh?
  7. What is your race/nationality?
  8. What is your religion? Do you celebrate religious holidays?
  9. What is your sexual orientation?
  10. Do you use drugs, alcohol or smoke?

No debate – it’s established law! These interview questions violate protected class status as defined by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law specifically states that no one shall be denied employment because of sex, race, color, of his religion or national origin. The law has recently been expanded to cover sexual orientation/gender identity status. Three additional laws also prohibit these questions: the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Lifestyle issues are dangerous territory! Interview questions about drug, alcohol, or smoking/vaping are considered lifestyle questions. Although the intention of the employer may be to find out if an applicant is using illegal drugs, it should be kept in mind that asking applicants if they are taking prescription drugs or have a history of illegal drug use would be prohibited under federal and state disability discrimination laws. Additionally, there are laws that prohibit smoking and the consumption of alcohol in most workplaces and public areas. Drug, alcohol or smoking/vaping bans in the workplace may be covered by policy as outlined in the company manual.

The BFOQ exception: questions about age, gender, religion and sexual orientation are prohibited – unless they are considered a genuine professional qualification, allowing an employer to make employment decisions based on protected classes – if and only if – it is necessary to function in a particular company. An example of BFOQ can be found in the airline industry: airline pilots have a mandatory retirement age of 65, as documented studies show that is when their age decreases and their performance becomes a risk to public safety.

Appropriate Interview Questions: Employers need to know if the candidate can come in to work day in and day out, complete all duties, perform job duties, and cover the shift. Ask questions that will focus on the performance of the job description. These questions and the candidate’s answers should reveal whether they can do the job:

  1. Are you able to perform the following tasks without any problems?
  2. Is there anything that could prevent you from working the next shift(s)?
  3. We need coverage during the following (hours, days, seasons), is this a problem for you?
  4. This work is physically demanding; can you handle all tasks efficiently?

Don’t ask follow-up “why not” questions.

No one needs to know why the candidate cannot commit to meeting the above performance standards. And asking “why not” questions can lead a candidate to make inappropriate disclosures. These disclosures could lead to an unfavorable hiring decision, resulting in a discrimination lawsuit.

Tomas Chavez is Director of Human Resources at Sequoia Personnel Services.

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