Is There Such Thing as an Illegal Question?

I came across an article today offering advice on handling interview questions. The advice was very helpful and really offered a way to handle awkward questions with grace and dignity. I certainly would recommend that anyone looking for a job read this. I did have one issue though and that is the use of the term “illegal” when it comes to interview questions.

I personally don’t believe that any question is illegal, per se, but rather ill-advised. Though it is perfectly valid to state that certain questions shouldn’t be asked because the answers could put the company in a position of potential liability, particularly if the candidate is not hired.

From HRHero:

When conducting job interviews, it’s important to ask the right questions to get the information you need to see if the person you’re interviewing is a good fit for the job. But it’s also important to know what not to ask. In other words, what the various employment laws say you can’t ask or what might suggest to an outsider that you’re considering an impermissible trait in evaluating candidates.

As a general rule of thumb, all of your questions should be directly related to the job in question and the job duties the applicant would be required to perform if hired. Of course, you need to steer clear of asking applicants about their age, race, color, sex, disability, religion, national origin, pregnancy, and other protected classifications.

One would like to think that common sense would come into play during interviews, but as we all know, that doesn’t always happen. Questions are asked about last names, families, age, among many others. These types of questions are awkward, inappropriate and definitely sends the interview down a very slippery path, but there is nothing illegal about asking them. Making decisions solely on the basis of the answers to these questions can definitely cross legal lines, but the questions themselves do not.

The best way to avoid these questions popping up in interviews is to train your hiring managers on how to conduct a constructive interview. Using tools such as prepared questions, rating scales, 80/20 rules and behavioral interviewing, to name a few, can help the interviewer truly determine if the person in front of them is the right person for the job.

If done correctly, there won’t be any room for “questionable” questions.

3 Replies to “Is There Such Thing as an Illegal Question?”

  1. Thank you! This is my pet peeve, the commonly-repeatedly myth that these questions are illegal. What is illegal is basing a hiring decision on the answers to these questions, but not asking the questions themselves. (But of course, since the employer can’t factor in the answers, there’s no point in asking them.)

  2. I worked for a small company with approx., 70 people, however, in my individual office there are only 5 people and one of the 5 employees constantly bothers me. However, I have repeatedly asked to be left alone. Can I file a restraining order against another employees without creating a ‘bad work environment” and could I be the one fired for taking some type of legal action against another employee. My company has no HR Department and things are starting to get a little out of hand.

    Thank you

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