While you, the potential employer, are in the driver’s seat when it comes to the job interview, there are certain questions that are off limits; questions that an applicant doesn’t have to answer because they can leave a company open to charges of discrimination.

For instance, laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit employment discrimination based on race, religion, sex, and national origin. Therefore, employers should steer clear of asking applicant questions that relate to these protected classes.

Below are the types of interview questions that are illegal for companies to ask potential employees.

“Do you have a physical condition we should know about?”

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) states that an employer cannot discriminate against an otherwise qualified applicant or worker with a disability. Private companies with 15 or more staff members and state and regional government organizations must adhere to the ADA.

If the job has certain physical demands that are necessary to perform it, a company should post those requirements as a part of the job description and ask candidates if they meet the posted requirements. For instance, if an open position calls for lifting heavy boxes onto warehouse shelves, potential applicants should be informed of that before applying.

Note that the ADA forbids organizations from asking discriminatory questions prior to making a job offer. After a job offer has been made, organizations are allowed to ask questions on disabilities, so long as they ask all other applicants who are offered the same kind of job, not only applicants with a noticeable disability.

“Are you thinking about having children soon?”

According to the Civil Rights Act, a company cannot discriminate against a female job applicant and questions around pregnancy and childbirth can open up an employer to charges of sex discrimination.

If a potential employer has concerns around the applicant’s capacity to carry out job duties, like the ability to travel out of town, the interviewer should ask the applicant specifically about the capacity to perform job duties. For example: “Do you have any reasons why you would not be able to travel to Europe to meet with potential clients as a part of your job duties?”

“Will you need off for religious holidays? Where were you born? What year did you graduate from high school?”

All of these seemingly innocent questions inquire about a protected class – specifically religion, national origin, and age.


What to do if candidates offer information about religion, age, etc.

During the conversation, an applicant might make a passing mention about their birthplace, age, religion or any other tidbit of information an interviewer might be trying to avoid. If this is the case, an interviewer should gloss over the subject or quickly move on to another topic.

For example, if an applicant asks about a flexible schedule so they can handle childcare arrangements, the interview should address that concern and then move on to other matters.

At Cornerstone, we have years of experience handling the legal issues surrounding the hiring process. If your company is looking for assistance on sourcing new talent, please contact us today.



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