By Brittany Foster | June 26, 2014
While the process of advertising a new job listing for your business, filtering resumes and holding interviews, hiring your new employee, and signing the employment contract is arduous, it’s worth it to find the right candidate.
Actually figuring out whether someone is a good fit with your company and its needs is more difficult still. You need to ask the right questions to learn enough about them to decide if they are qualified, but you also have to be wary of the wrong questions.
Asking your potential or existing employees questions that are considered illegal can cause you a lot of problems. Not only will you face possible legal action, but you may risk losing future candidates who will avoid working for your business because of your reputation.
Here are some of the questions that you need to watch out for, whether you are conducting an interview or speaking to one of your current employees.
1) When did you graduate?
Since you aren’t allowed to ask any questions that could reveal the age of the employee, you cannot ask when someone graduated from high school or university.
Instead, ask about their job experience and how it pertains to the opportunity in question.
2) Is this your married name?
You can’t ask any questions about the individual’s marital status. That means if they are married, what their married name is, or even their title (Mrs., Miss, Ms., Mr.).
You also can’t ask about a person’s spouse, even if they tell you that they have one. Refrain from asking what a person’s spouse does, how much they make, or any other questions surrounding the employee’s, or their partner’s, relationship.
You can ask if someone has previously worked for the company under a different name.
3) Do you participate in any groups outside of work?
This question could encourage someone to talk about their religious or political beliefs, which is not something that you, as an employer, are allowed to know.
Since many people want to ask this question to make sure that an employee won’t miss time at work to attend certain events, ask if they can meet the schedule requirements without trouble.
4) Do you have any kids?
Questions about existing children, future children, and anything related to pregnancy need to be avoided. You can’t ask if someone would return to work after maternity leave, or if someone plans to have children.
Although this is obviously an issue that is more directed at women, it’s still important to remember not to ask about paternity leave or children when speaking with a male either.
5) How tall are you, about 6’5?
It doesn’t matter if it’s conversational or during an interview, avoid questions that reveal someone’s weight or height. All you need to know is if they believe that they could perform the required tasks efficiently.
Give them a detailed overview of the requirements and ask them if they think that they can meet them.
As some jobs require that an employee is able to lift a certain weight, such as 20lbs, it is appropriate for you to ask if they are able to do so.
6) Do you smoke or drink?
The only thing that you can ask is if an employee has ever been reprimanded for violating any tobacco of alcohol use rules while on the job.
You can’t ask if they take drugs, but you can ask if they take illegal drugs.
This is because it is not necessary for you to know about personal prescriptions.
7) What an interesting accent! Where are you from?
This one is not allowed because you can’t ask any questions in relation to an employee’s race. You also can’t ask where their parents are from or even where they learned a second language, unless bilingualism is required for the job.
Avoid asking about the origin of their name too, as that could explain where they are from.
8) Where did you drive in from?
Since you may prefer someone who lives close to work, you might want to ask about where a candidate or employee lives, but you can’t ask about the length of their commute.
Instead, just ask if they can be available during the required hours.
9) How’s your credit score?
Avoid questions about credit scores, bankruptcy, and other personal finances.
You can require credit checks as part of an application process, but this is generally a one-time event that takes place after the interview. The employee must give consent.
10) Have you ever been arrested?
Anyone can be mistakenly arrested. You can’t ask about arrests because being arrested doesn’t mean that someone was involved in a crime.
You can ask if someone has been convicted, but you have to be specific about what they were convicted of (fraud, theft, etc.).
11) Do you live with your spouse?
Questions about an employee’s living situation are prohibited. On emergency contact forms you are not allowed to put “closest relative to contact in case of emergency”, as you must avoid using the word “relative”.
Since each person’s personal living situation is different, use general terms and don’t make assumptions about someone’s family life.
12) What are you going to the doctor for?
As an employer, you are not allowed to ask about an individual’s past or present personal health, including operations, hospital visits, doctor’s appointments, etc.
You also need to avoid any questions about mental health, disabilities, and anything else related to the personal mental and physical status of the employee.
Don’t ask about sick days, either. It’s inappropriate for you to ask how many sick days a person took at their last job, along with why.
You can, however, ask how many days they missed from work last year.
13) Could a man do this job? We’ve always had a woman.
Questions about gender are prohibited. This includes the individual’s gender, asking if they can work with or supervise the opposite gender, and if a certain gender could perform the tasks required for the job as efficiently as another.
14) Were you dishonorably discharged from the military?
You also have to avoid questions about an individual’s current enrollment in either the National Guard or the Reserves.
15) Can I get your Facebook password?
This was an issue that became heated in 2012 but has since cooled. Many states disallow potential or current employers from requesting personal social media logins from interviewees and employees.
Asking the Wrong Questions
At times, some of the questions that are prohibited are allowed. If you can prove that a question directly relates to the job and that the answer would affect the person’s ability to perform the tasks, you may be allowed to ask certain questions.
An example would be if you were a seniors clothing business recruiting senior models. Because your business specifically requires senior models to sell your product, it would not be considered ageism. If it were a women’s store, you could request females models, and if it were a men’s store, you could request male models.
When you ask an employee an inappropriate question they are not required to answer it. They may feel obligated to and answer it anyway, but you cannot let their answer effect how you treat them as a person or as an employee.
If you do ask an inappropriate question, and an employee feels as if their rights have been violated, you could face a discrimination charge as well as a lawsuit. Aside from the legal repercussions, you also face having a negative reputation. Today, with information so easily accessible through the internet, news spreads fast, and even a local business can be internationally showcased in a negative light from bad behavior.
Be aware of your state’s laws surrounding employment discrimination. Avoid personal questions and focus on ones that pertain to the job.
Treating your employees fairly and asking the questions that relate to job experience, education, skills, and other relevant areas will help you to find a good employee without getting you into trouble. Be respectful, thoughtful, and remember that although the employee may need the job, you need them as well.
Did any of these questions surprise you? Which ones? Share your thoughts in the comments.