Staying Within the Law: Interview Questions to Avoid at All Costs!

NO BOOK ON INTERVIEWING questioning techniques would be complete without an acknowledgment that certain queries could land you in hot water legally. You could get into trouble for the illegal use of the non-job-related information that you obtained by asking a query in the pre-offer stage of the hiring process. If a candidate believes that she was discriminated against because of improper information that you uncovered during the interview, for example, then that individual could bring suit against you for failing to hire her. The cost of defending such claims could be significant in terms of your company s monetary and time investments. The penalties for losing the suit typically include wages the applicant would have earned if hired plus the individual s attorney s fees. The average cost of a lost employment suit, win or lose, can exceed $100,000.

How difficult is it to steer clear of legal snares? Fortunately, it' s not too difficult, especially if your staff is adequately trained and armed with the following information. As a matter of fact, with the number of people interviewing candidates in your company at any given time who could potentially be exposing your organization to unnecessary litigation, this section of the book might well become a critical training module for your newly hired managers.

Although no one aims to blatantly transgress federal or state guidelines that bar various forms of discrimination, the intent is not at issue: only the form of the hiring manager' s questions. So let' s briefly take a look at some of the more common unacceptable preemployment inquiries that are floating around out there.

Inappropriate Question 1: ''What's your maiden name so that I can check your references?''

Asking for a female's maiden name can discriminate against her on the basis of marital status and possibly national origin. Instead, ask whether the candidate has used any other names in the past (not necessarily due to marriage) that will allow your company to verify the person's past work experience and education.

Inappropriate Question 2: ''How old are you? What year were you born? When did you graduate from high school?''

State and federal law protects those over forty years old. It promotes the hiring, promotion, and other terms and conditions of employment of older people based on their abilities rather than their age. There's no problem questioning the year of college graduation because people can graduate from college at any time in their lives, so there's no way to figure out the person's age. But nearly all high schoolers graduate at seventeen or eighteen, so an individual's year of birth could readily be determined by subtracting eighteen from the year of graduation. That's why asking for high school graduation dates must be avoided.

That might raise another issue in your mind, though. Are you still liable for information (written or spoken) volunteered by a candidate without your prompting? Yes! So to defend yourself, you've got to remove anything written on an employment application that could compromise your adherence to proper interviewing guidelines. When a candidate mentions something out loud that doesn't belong in your meeting (for example, ''I'm forty-seven years old,'' ''I'm so excited—I just found out I'm pregnant!'' or ''I learned to speak English after I moved to America when I was eighteen''), immediately let the person know that such information isn't relevant to the interview. Move on to another issue and, by all means, don't write any of that information down on the employment application, resume, or even on Post-It notes—all are subject to subpoena in the legal discovery process.

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