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5 Interview Questions to Steer Clear Of


The Civil Rights Act forbids employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants based on their race, color, sex, national origin and religion. Asking questions related to those (and other) protected classes may be a blatant violation of the law or, at the very least, could be unethical or unwise. Here are five of these questions.

1. Do you have kids? Or, are you planning to have kids?

Candidates may interpret your questions about children as discrimination based on their sex, which is a federally protected class. If the candidate is pregnant, questions about kids could easily slip into pregnancy discrimination, which is prohibited by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

2. What's your present or past salary?

Under the Equal Pay Act, it's illegal for employers to pay men and women different wages for the same work because of their sex. Building on that rule, several states and cities prohibit employers from asking candidates about their salary history — and many other states and localities are considering similar legislation.

A better way to handle salary is to establish a pay range for the job in advance, based on the required skills set, experience and market demands — instead of according to what the candidate previously earned.

3. How old are you?

You have the right to know whether a candidate is at least 18 years of age or the age of majority in your state. But remember that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals age 40 or older. Also, some states have age discrimination laws that protect people who are younger than 40.

4. Do you have any disabilities?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you cannot ask any questions that may uncover the existence of a disability before you've made a job offer. Prohibited questions include:

  • Do you have — or have you ever been treated for — any diseases?
  • Did you take any sick leave days last year? And if so, how many?
  • What medications are you currently taking?
  • Have you ever suffered from drug addiction?

Instead, ask those questions after making the job offer, and make sure you pose those same questions to other candidates who are offered the same type of work — not just to those whose disabilities are obvious. Alternatively, you can explain the essential functions of the job and then ask the candidate whether he or she can perform them.

5. Do you own a car?

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, this question might be discriminatory because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regards car ownership as financial information — and under federal EEO laws, employers cannot discriminate "when using financial information to make employment decisions."

Unless the job requires the use of a personal vehicle, whether the candidate owns a car is irrelevant.

For more insight into what you can or cannot ask during a job interview, consider speaking with an employment attorney.


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Scott Johnson
(617) 298-1000
12 Welch Avenue, #7
Stoughton, MA 02072
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Our firm provides the information in this e-newsletter for general guidance only, and does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services, investment advice, or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional tax, accounting, legal, or other competent advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation. The information is provided "as is," with no assurance or guarantee of completeness, accuracy, or timeliness of the information, and without warranty of any kind, express or implied, including but not limited to warranties of performance, merchantability, and fitness for a particular purpose.
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