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Questions to Avoid During an Employment Interview

by Michael Roennevig

Apart from the fact that it's bad manners and unprofessional to ask job candidates inappropriate questions, doing so could land you in trouble with the law. Before putting together a list of questions for an interview, make sure none of your lines of inquiry could be misconstrued as discriminatory.

General Characteristics

Steer clear of asking any questions that directly relate to a candidate's sexual orientation, marital status, religious beliefs or citizenship. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations and federal and state laws make it illegal for employers to discriminate on these grounds during the recruitment process. Even making small talk that touches on these subjects during an interview could leave you open to accusations of discriminatory behavior. If your interviewee were to make a complaint about you, your company could face a large fine and damage to reputation. While you shouldn't ask a candidate what country she's from, it's perfectly legal to inquire if she would be able to produce proof of her eligibility to work in the U.S. if she were offered the job. Instead of asking about a candidate's religious beliefs, you may ask if she can commit to working weekends if necessary.

Pregnancy and Childcare

Questions about pregnancy and childcare arrangements could also land you in hot water. Don't ask potential employees how many children they have, what childcare arrangements they have in place or whether they are planning to have children in the future. It's illegal to make a hiring decision based on these factors. If you want to ascertain whether a candidate will be able fulfill the requirements of a job, ask if she has any commitments that would prevent her from doing so or if she has plans that would necessitate extended absences from work.

Abilities

Don't ask candidates about their physical or mental health or genetic disorders that may run in their family. Jeffrey Weinstock, an attorney and president of Rhodes & Weinstock LLC, a staffing and placement company in Washington, D.C., told Bankrate.com that under the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a recruiter may ask a candidate if he is capable of performing the functions of a job with or without a reasonable accommodation, but may not ask about specific conditions.

Age

With a few exceptions such as the the Federal Aviation Administration's rule that prohibits commercial pilots from flying after the age of 65, it's illegal to discriminate on the grounds of age when interviewing potential employees. As well as making sure you don't ask a candidate his age outright, be careful not to ask questions that would allow you to work out his vintage, such as "What year did you graduate from high school?"

Arrest and Convictions/Military Discharge Information

Although there's no federal law that clearly prohibits you from asking questions about a candidate's criminal history, some state's limit the use of arrest and conviction records by prospective employers, according to the EEOC. Depending on where you do business, you may not be allowed to ask an interviewee about her arrest record. If you are permitted to inquire into past criminal behavior, any information must be considered as it relates to the candidate's fitness to perform the job. Contact your local EEOC office to find out what you can ask about in your state. If you're interviewing a military veteran, it's illegal for you to ask about the type of discharge she received.

About the Author

Michael Roennevig has been a journalist since 2003. He has written on politics, the arts, travel and society for publications such as "The Big Issue" and "Which?" Roennevig holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the Surrey Institute and a postgraduate diploma from the National Council for the Training of Journalists at City College, Brighton.

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