Common Interview Questions That Can Lead to Lawsuits

HR professionals are generally aware of certain topics that should be avoided during an interview, but sometimes hiring managers are not as savvy and can easily cause a discrimination lawsuit against the company. It is crucial for everyone involved in the employee selection process to thoroughly understand what interview questions are appropriate to ask a prospective employee and what topics may cause issues.

Any interview questions associated with age, arrests, marital/family status, disability, military discharge, national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation should be avoided as they can be related to discriminatory actions by a prospective employer. There are exceptions if the question is job-related, for instance, “The job requires that the candidate be at least 21 years of age. Do you meet that qualification?”  However, it is best to focus on whether or not the person has the specific qualifications for the job.

What to Avoid

It is in the company’s best interest for the interviewer to ask questions that are likely to give you the answers to determine whether or not the person can do what the job requires, such as their work history and references. These types of questions show that they’re trying to get the best candidate. Some illegal questions for employers to ask prospective employees include:

  1. How old are you?
  2. Are you married?
  3. Do you have children? / Are you planning to have children?
  4. What is your sexual orientation?
  5. What is your religion? / Where do you go to church?
  6. Do you have a disability?
  7. Have you been in the military?
  8. Where are you from?
  9. What is your native language?
  10. Where do you live? / Do you own a house?

Exceptions apply when an employer is worried that the candidate may not be able to perform the job due to health or disabilities. In this case, it may be appropriate to ask how they would perform it or what accommodations would be needed. Keep in mind that this is a general list and different jurisdictions have different employment laws.

Often employers will assume a question is harmless, but it may lead to disclosure by the applicant of some information that may backfire on the employer, such as asking a candidate what they do in their spare time. If they were to give a religious or politically-specific answer and are then turned down for the job, the applicant might claim they were rejected because they disclosed that information. Even though those claims may be difficult to prove, many states are pro-employee or pro-candidate, so the possibility of legal costs and time spent are high.

Other Considerations

HR professionals and hiring managers should be proactive in ensuring that their interviewing practices are fair and non-discriminatory to create a strong work environment. It is human nature to often seek out individuals who are similar to us. However, having a diversity of experiences and backgrounds provides for a much healthier workplace. It is smart for hiring managers to review their job applications to avoid asking any illegal questions and ensure they are complying with local laws as well. Also, note the importance of clarifying job postings with the qualifications needed for the role and what the company is looking for in a job candidate.

Those who are doing any hiring can significantly benefit from ongoing training on anti-discrimination laws and hiring best practices. Illegal questioning is just one small area of considerations within a very robust and professional interviewing process. Companies who don’t spend the time and energy on continuously improving are in turn hurting themselves, as they will not be able to secure the best candidates.

It is best for hiring managers to stay focused on things like experience and skills needed to get the best-qualified candidates. Consider providing all hiring managers with a cheat sheet that explains what is and is not appropriate to ask. To put it simply, if the interview questions are not job-related, stay away from the topic altogether to avoid possible discrimination concerns. With today’s’ litigious society, the chances that businesses will face an EPLI Lawsuit only continue to rise; which is why Texas EPLI insurance is so important.

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