Thursday, 28 September 2017 13:50

A PEO Company Answers: What is an Illegal Interview Question?

If you do not currently work with a PEO Company that keeps you informed on the latest workplace regulations, you may not be aware that there are questions that should not be asked during a job interview. Asking these questions can make your company liable in a discrimination lawsuit. And those risks are real.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 91,503 charges of workplace discrimination were filed in the fiscal year 2016. Since a prospective employee’s first touch with your company is the interview, understanding what is okay and not okay to ask in an interview will help you in avoiding discrimination claims.

Topics That Are Off Limits in Job Interviews

Here are the topics that are off-limits in a job interview:

  • Age
  • Gender or sex
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Race, ethnicity, or color
  • Country of national origin or birth place
  • Marital or family status or pregnancy

While this may seem pretty straightforward, sometimes it is not always obvious which questions would tick these boxes. Often, these types of questions come from trying to discern different information altogether. Before asking questions that may fall into some of those off-limits topics, consider what you really want to learn about that candidate.

Rather than asking “How old are your kids?” or “What does your wife do?” consider rephrasing to a more direct question. You are trying to ascertain how much time outside of work a candidate's family may require, so instead ask about the candidate's availability for specific days or times and their flexibility for the occasional overtime.

Similarly, “Where did you grow up?” or “When did you graduate high school?” can seem innocuous enough at a cocktail party, but in a job interview these questions can be seen as trying to determine the applicant’s race or ethnicity and their age. Instead, drill into the specifics required for the role where this type of information may apply by asking “Are you over the age of 18?” or “This job requires someone who can speak multiple languages. What languages are you fluent in?” This line of questioning gets you the information you need to evaluate the candidate, without the putting your company at risk.

Perhaps you are interviewing for a spot where the former employee had trouble working for a female boss. You may be tempted to ask an applicant, “Are you comfortable working for a female supervisor?” Don’t. It’s a discriminatory question because it singles out female bosses as being different than their male counterparts. Here, you may really be looking to understand how a candidate handles conflict, as opposed to gender-specific issues with leadership, so that is how you should tailor your questioning.

Other questions to avoid: Have you had any major illnesses? When are you planning to retire? Are you a U.S. citizen? Do you need personal time for religious holidays? All of these are discriminatory in nature and, ultimately, do not provide you with the information you are looking for.

New Interview Question Laws

In addition to these questions, New York and Massachusetts have recently passed laws that ban asking about an applicant’s current or recent salary. Aimed at countering wage discrimination, these laws make it illegal to probe for a salary history on job applications as well.

The interview process is to determine if the applicant has the skills and experience to perform the job and the attitude and mindset to fit within your team.

How A PEO Company Can Help You

While a professional employment organization does not interview or hire employees for your company, a PEO company can help train your staff on correct interviewing techniques and hiring regulations. They can also free you from on-boarding duties so you can focus on recruiting top talent.

StaffScapes has been helping companies just like yours grow and succeed for over twenty years. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you achieve your business goals.