“Is that interview question legal?”
If you have to stop and think twice about a particular interview question, then chances are it may not be up to standards. Asking questions that could be perceived hurts your company’s image and could result in serious legal repercussions.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has a set of standards every organization must follow to ensure an ethical and legal interview process. Here’s our breakdown of questions you can’t ask and how you can address pre-employment inquiries:
Example: What Is Your Race? or What Nationality Are You?
Employers are not allowed to ask candidates to disclose their race during the interview process. If an employer has a “legitimate need” for that information, it must be obtained through a separate process outside of the interview setting, so it doesn't become as factor in determining a candidate’s fit for the role.
Height & Weight
Example: How Tall Are You? or How Much Do You Weigh?
Employers cannot ask directly about an applicant’s height or weight. However, they can ask questions like, "Are you able to lift heavy objects?" if the job requires physical activity.
Example: Do You Have Any Equity? or Have You Ever Declared Bankruptcy?
While the EEOC does not ban employers from asking about a candidate’s financial status, they are banned from bias financial inquiries. This means they can't ask for financial information based off race, gender, marital status or disability.
When conducting background checks into financial history, employers must follow the rules set in place by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which requires businesses to ask for written consent before conducting a background check. They also have to provide candidates with information on how they plan to use the data.
Religious Affiliation Or Beliefs
Example: What Religion Are You? or Are You Religious?
Questions about religion are considered non-job related. Religious institutions that aim to hire individuals that align with the same religion are exempt from this EEOC regulation. Employers are also advised not to ask for references from a candidate’s spiritual leader.
Example: Are You A U.S. Citizen?
Employers are forbidden from asking questions about citizenship, where you were born, or any accent a candidate may have. Instead, employers can ask: "Are you eligible to work in the U.S.?"
Employers may also want to add this legal language into their job application, so candidates are aware of further qualifications upon potential hire:
“In compliance with federal law, all persons hired will be required to verify identity and eligibility to work in the United States and to complete the required employment eligibility verification form upon hire.”
Marital Status or Number Of Children
Example: What Is Your Maiden Name? or How Many Children Do You Have?
Questions about marital status, children or pregnancy are considered questions that are not related to assessing a candidate for potential job fit. They should be discussed after a candidate has accepted a job offer, if necessary.
Disability and Medical Conditions
Example: Do You Have Any Mental Or Physical Disabilities?
Employers cannot discriminate against qualified applicants who are disabled. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees with physical or mental handicaps.
NYC Only: Salary History
Example: How Much Money Do You Make?
New York City has banned employers from asking candidates to disclose their past salary history. Candidates are allowed to disclose their salary history at-will, but are not mandated to.
Employers should ensure that their interviewers and hiring managers are well-versed in what qualify as illegal interview questions.