Not Every Interview Question Is Legal

Not Every Interview Question Is Legal iStockphoto.com

There’s no such thing as a stupid question, unless you’re interviewing a potential employee and ask an unlawful question, and then there most certainly is, according to Tiffani McDonough of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel in a recent blog post. “Participants in the interview process, regardless of whether they are decision-makers, should fully understand what information should not be solicited during telephone screens or interviews of applicants,” she explains.

Here are some of her tips on what not to ask and how to reframe, when necessary:

  • Marital and Family Status: It’s not appropriate to ask directly about maiden names or marital status, says McDonough. Instead, ask whether the person has ever gone by a different name, which is completely acceptable, she says. It’s also not OK to ask about children or future family plans. But it is within an employer’s right to ask about ability to travel, work overtime and weekend availability.
  • Age and Education: Employers are allowed to verify proof of age once they hire someone, but beforehand can’t ask about birth dates, age or whether the person has graduated high school. Instead, McDonough suggests trying vaguer questions such as, “What did you study? What school did you attend? What’s your degree in?”
  • Impermissible Information: If the applicant offers up information that shouldn’t be considered by the employer, McDonough says to redirect back to job-related information and avoid following up on the topic.
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