When employers are engaged in the hiring process, they naturally want to connect with potential employees on a personal level. However, getting too friendly can lead to a slippery slope.

Many questions may seem benign but may in fact be deemed inappropriate and even illegal.

Here are nine questions that employers and potential employees should watch out for.

1. What is your marital status? Do you have kids, and, if so, how old are your kids?

While questions about marital status and children are appropriate in casual conversation, when brought up in a job interview, these questions send the message that candidates are being screened to determine who might get pregnant or have childcare issues that may get in the way of the job.

Often, this line of questioning is harmless. If it is rooted in concern for the employee’s availability moving forward, it can violate the Fair Employment and Housing Act and open the employer up to lawsuits.

2. What year did you graduate?

When an employer asks a potential employee what year they graduated high school, they can be trying to determine their age, leading to a discrimination claim. U.S. labor law shields job applicants age 40 and over from discrimination based on age.

3. What school did you attend?

While asking what school a candidate attended is usually a harmless question, it can be intended as a way to determine where the potential employee was born and what their racial demographic may be. That would violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting an employer from discriminating based on race or national origin.

4. Do you plan to retire anytime soon? Can you work well with Millennials? Do you have grandkids?

Age-related questions are a no-no in a job interview. That includes questions that might classify a candidate based on generational stereotypes like, “Are you okay with working around Gen Z employees?” It is also inappropriate for employers to ask a question like, “Are you planning to retire within the next few years?”

5. What’s your opinion on religion, vaccinations, abortion, etc.?

Employers should never ask candidates about their opinions on hot-button political or religious issues. A common mistake that smaller companies make is asking political and religious-based questions because they want to create a team of “like-minded” individuals working for the company, which can lead to illegal, discriminatory conduct.

6. Are you a citizen of the U.S.? Where do you originally come from?

U.S. labor law protects individuals from employment discrimination based on national origin. Therefore, applicants have no obligation to share their immigration status or even where they were born during a job interview. Asking about either can be discriminatory and land an employer in hot water.

7. How much did you make at your previous job?

To prevent gender and racial pay inequities, at least 21 states and several cities have made it illegal for employers to ask a candidate how much money they earned at a previous employer. Delaware, Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, and Illinois are just a few states with a salary history ban. Cities like Philadelphia, Kansas City, and New York City also have salary history bans on the books.  

However, employers are permitted to ask prospective employees about their salary expectations.

8. Were you ever arrested, or have you ever been convicted of any crime?

When an employer asks questions about a conviction record that has no bearing on their ability to do a job, the candidate will have grounds for a discrimination claim. This question is more likely to surface in a job application rather than during the interview process. However, fifteen states ban conviction questions from most job applications, and over 30 states have made it illegal to ask candidates arrest history and conviction questions.

9. Will you require special medical accommodations?

Employers find themselves in hot water when they ask questions about a candidate’s disabilities or medical issues because the U.S. Americans With Disabilities Act prevents job discrimination because of a disability and allows applicants to seek reasonable accommodations if they qualify. If an employer asks a candidate if they require accommodations before offering them a job, it could seem like they are screening out individuals with disabilities.

Interview Question Takeaways

It is important for employers to ensure that all job candidate interviews are well-scripted with no room for casual conversation that can move into murky questions that could later hurt the company.

For potential job candidates, knowing what can and cannot be asked in a job interview will help you determine whether or not you are being discriminated against or losing access to a job opportunity because of an inappropriate screening process. Do not be afraid to question the validity of the above questions if you encounter them in an interview process. 

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