How to Stop Asking These Illegal Interview Questions

Interviews are meant to highlight applicants’ skills, knowledge, and background. They are instruments that are designed to reveal the truth about an applicant.

However, even the pursuit of truth has its limits. Some questions could get you in trouble if you’re careless about them. Here are some illegal interview questions you should never ask.

A man standing while wearing black jacket holding his hand up.
Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

What Is an Interview Question?

Interview questions are a way to get an idea about the candidate and their potential for the job. Interviewers use them for many positions and play an important role in deciding whether to hire someone for the job. 

While recruiters may ask applicants about a plethora of things, the law provides limits to these questions. The law protects applicants from discrimination and harassment.

Even when you may not intend to cause harm to an applicant, asking illegal questions may be perceived as an attempt to discriminate.

Remember that the law requires employers to give a fair chance to applicants regardless of sociocultural background. Asking these questions may be perceived as an attempt to segment candidates, which could be used as a legal basis for a lawsuit.

Even when a recruiter’s intentions may be without malice, dragging the company into a legal battle won’t just cost time and money. Even after a successful defense, a lawsuit may mar a company’s reputation, which, in turn, hurts employee and customer trust.

Remember: you can win in court, but there’s still the court of publicity, which, at times, can be harsher.

Examples of Illegal Interview Questions

As mentioned earlier, some interview questions can land your company in a legal battle. Even when the interviewer means no harm, asking these questions may be misconstrued as an attempt to discriminate against a candidate. 

  • Age or genetic information
  • Birthplace, country of origin, or citizenship
  • Disability
  • Gender, sex, or sexual orientation
  • Marital status, family, or pregnancy
  • Race, color, or ethnicity
  • Religion

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects employees and job applicants from employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. 

Asking questions pertinent to the above information may affect a hiring manager’s judgment of a candidate. However, do note that there are some instances when these questions may be asked by employers (after hiring a candidate)

This exception is usually in fulfillment of a national census. Moreover, these questions are safe to ask AFTER hiring a candidate because they’re already part of the company. This means that the data gathered had no bearing on whether they landed the job.

The Bottom Line

The law provides guidelines for acceptable behavior and what isn’t. Recruiters must exercise due care in conducting interviews because some questions may land them and their company legal trouble.

The general idea is that you should avoid asking questions that aren’t related to the job an applicant is applying for. Of course, you may ask personal questions, but only if they can affect an applicant’s ability to perform a task

Avoid asking about sociocultural attributes. As with all things related to the law, the safe approach is the best approach.

How to Stop Asking These Illegal Interview Questions

Abir is a data analyst and researcher. Among her interests are artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. As a humanitarian and educator, she actively supports women in tech and promotes diversity.

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