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Employers: Avoid these questions in employment interviews

Sometimes the best intentions during employment interviews can result in severe problems. While the objective of this type of dialogue is for employers to consider a prospective hire’s credentials, there is almost always small talk involved. It is during small… 

talk that some of the most serious mistakes can be made. Below are some questions that companies should avoid asking during interviews.Note that none of the questions below are illegal. You cannot be arrested or sued for asking any of these questions. But these questions give an unsuccessful candidate a ‘wedge” to claim that the reason you did not hire him or her was because of illegal discrimination on your part.Of course, if you are sued for illegal discrimination, you can defend such a lawsuit by pointing out that this applicant did not have the necessary education or experience, or that the candidate that you hired was better qualified. But who wants a lawsuit? By avoiding a question about children, religion, nationality or disability, you avoid giving the unsuccessful candidate the opportunity to accuse you of discriminating on that basis. For that reason, it’s best to avoid these questions altogether.“Do you have children?”Imagine this situation: During an interview, the applicant notices a photo of your family and comments how lovely the family is. This is an ordinary opportunity to say something like, “Thank you. Do you have children of your own?”While this inquiry may have been used to warm up the discussion, it can trigger possible legal trouble. Questioning an applicant about whether he or she has children could be cited as indication of discrimination if the candidate is not hired. Similar questions include: “Are you married?”; “Do you plan on having children?” “Are you pregnant?” and “What daycare arrangements do you have?” (If the candidate volunteers that he or she has children, feel free to ask about them, but do not be the one to raise the topic.)If you are concerned about the applicant’s level of commitment to the job, and whether family commitments might affect job performance, you can ask questions like: “Are you able to work during our business hours, which are from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.?” or “Will traveling for work be a problem for you?”“What is your religious affiliation?”This question can certainly come up in conversation, especially if the applicant is wearing a religious symbol like a cross necklace. Nevertheless, because companies cannot base hiring decisions on a person’s religion, it is best to avoid this subject.If it is significant for your company to know whether a candidate can work on religious holidays or weekends, an inquiry such as, “Would you be able to work on weekends and holidays?” would be sufficient.“What nationality are you?”This may seem like an obvious question to avoid, but it can all too easily sneak up in discussions. For example, an applicant might have a strong, foreign accent, prompting an interest in where the potential employee is from. Even direct questions like, “Are you from England?” can be used as evidence of discrimination.Employers do need to find out if the individual is authorized to work in the U.S. The question, “Are you authorized to work in this country?” is perfectly legal. In fact, verifying eligibility to work in this country is required.“What is your maiden name?”This should be avoided because it indirectly solicits information about a person’s marital status and targets a specific gender, both of which are not legitimate bases for a hiring decision. This may come up in conversation if companies are trying to look up information on a candidate. In that case, the employer can ask, “Have you ever gone by any other names?” or “What names are your work records under?” to obtain necessary details to run background checks.“Where did you get that scar?” or “I see you are limping; what happened to your leg?”It’s not likely that employers would ask such an abrupt question, but they may be tempted by curiosity if they can relate to the mark or injury in some way.In any case this question could lead to trouble. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, companies cannot discriminate against anyone with a disability or who might appear to have one. Questions about a scar or an injury may lead a candidate who is not hired to believe that he or she was rejected because of his disability. It would be best to restrict your questions to whether the candidate is capable of performing the job either with or without reasonable accommodations.