Job seekers are often and at length advised to prepare for hiring interviews. If you are an employer in the midst of the hiring process, you should be preparing for interviews as well. In addition to planning an effective strategy to learn about the applicant’s strengths, weaknesses and overall appropriateness for the position, employers must review and avoid categories of questions that are prohibited by law and could bring lawsuits in the future.
It Can Be Discrimination Even If You don’t Mean It
As part and parcel of the general prohibition against discriminatory hiring practices, employers are not allowed to ask questions about the candidate’s potential belonging to a protected category. Asking questions about someone’s national origin can be interpreted as showing intent to discriminate based on this category. Even if you have no thought of discriminating against any candidate, asking questions in these categories creates the appearance of discrimination and opens you up to potential lawsuits.
Interviewers, especially those who are by nature friendly and gregarious, may find it difficult to keep track of prohibited topics. Some questions, such as whether a candidate is married or has children or where the candidate is from, may be intended as social chit chat, but are considered discriminatory in the context of employment law. Reviewing a list of off-limits topics before the interview can help you avoid blundering into forbidden territory.
With few, situation-specific exceptions, employers may not ask about the following:
- Marital status
- Whether the applicant has children
- National origin
- Sexual orientation
The only time an employer can inquire about a protected category is when it is essential to job performance. Thus, a religious instructor may be asked about his or her knowledge of and adherence to the religion in question.
But what if the candidate brings up one of these topics without being prompted? In that case, it is best not to enlarge on it, even if you feel you have been given an opening for more questions. Although the question of liability in such a case is not straightforward, it is best to avoid potential problems by briefly responding to the candidate’s statement and continuing with your interview as planned.
Focus on the Job
A general rule that will help you keep away from problematic questions is that your interview is designed to find out if the applicant is right for the job you offer. Thus, all questions should be directed towards gauging future job performance. You can ask your candidate if she or he is able to work the required hours, if relocation will be a problem, or if he or she is authorized to legally work in the United States. You can also ask whether the applicant meets minimum age requirements for the position or has a valid driver’s license if the job requires driving. While inquiries about disabilities and medical history are forbidden, you can list the job duties and confirm with the applicant that he or she is able to perform all of them completely. Focusing on the candidate’s ability to perform job duties is a good way of keeping your interview on solid ground. It is also a generally effective approach that is most likely to give you the information you really want.
Avoid Misleading or Exaggerating Statements
In addition to avoiding the appearance of discrimination, interview best practices also encourage employers to avoid making statements that could be interpreted as promises or misrepresentations. In the course of conversation, it is easy to casually state that you expect the candidate to be promoted after two years on the job or to exaggerate your company’s success. Both of these can be very bad moves and result in claims of false promises or false inducements to accept the position.In order to avoid legal fallout down the line, employers should prepare for the interview as carefully as they expect their candidates to do so. Keeping to the facts and focusing on specific job requirements will help you evaluate your applicant without exposing yourself to legal risk.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.