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Top 5 Illegal Job Interview Questions

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for above-the-bar-logo-no12.jpgThe goal of most job interviews is to obtain important information about a candidate to determine if he or she is capable of performing the job requirements without crossing the line into illegal questions. An interviewer’s questions must be related to the job that is being applied for. An interviewer cannot ask questions about a person’s age, race, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or religion. The following are the top 5 things that an interviewer may want to know about a potential employee but cannot directly ask:

1) If you get pregnant, will you come back to work full-time after maternity leave?

This is a totally illegal question that can land you in the hot pot for discrimination. In fact, pharmaceutical giant Novartis learned the hard way, in the form of a $250 million award for punitive damages and an award of $3.6 million for compensatory damages for gender and pregnancy discrimination. Instead of this question, consider asking the following to all applicants:

What are your long-term career plans?
Is working overtime a problem for you?
If required, can you travel on short notice?

2) Are you married?

This question is often aimed at women to try to find out if they have a family and kids and whether this will interfere with their job responsibilities. This question is also used to find out a person’s sexual orientation. Either way, it is discriminatory and should not be asked. Instead, ask the following:

What are your long-term career plans?
Are you available to work overtime and weekends?

3) What religion do you practice?

This is a clearly prohibited question and could also land you in court on a discrimination claim. Religious accommodation and discrimination claims are on the rise. This may be an important question in your decision making process if a person’s religious beliefs are going to affect his or her work schedule. For example, it may be beneficial to know that a potential employee cannot work after 6 p.m. or every Wednesday, which might be a crucial deadline day. Instead, you might want to ask the following:

Are there any constraints on your work schedule?
Are you available to work every day?

4) How old are you?

You can only ask a person’s age if you are making sure that the person is over a required age to perform a job. For example, this question is appropriate if you’re interviewing someone who looks like a kid applying for the position of a bartender. You cannot ask this question with the intent that you do not want to hire any “old” people.

5) Do you have any disabilities?

Asking this question is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and can lead to costly litigation. However, as an employer, this might be a crucial piece of information you need to know to determine if the candidate can perform the required job duties. For example, lifting heavy boxes might be an important job function. However, you cannot ask this question. Instead, tell the candidate what the job responsibilities are and then ask the potential employee if he or she is able to perform all the job requirements you just described.

Asking discriminatory questions can lead to unnecessary, costly litigation. The key to an informative interview are well phrased questions that elicit detailed responses to your questions. A well thought out, planned interview should tell you if the potential employee is capable of performing all the job requirements. In making important financial decisions for your business, it is important to know an employee’s qualifications as well as constraints against working long hours, overtime or weekends. Call our experienced New York employment law attorneys at (800) 893-9645 to help you prepare well thought out, purposeful, job related questions that will give you insightful answers to help you in your hiring process.

If you were asked an illegal, discriminatory question at a job interview and not offered a job, talk to one of our experienced New York employment discrimination attorneys to determine if you have a claim for unlawful employment discrimination.


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