Employers and those interviewing job candidates must know the laws associated with what you may or may not ask when screening prospective employees. Unfamiliarity with these areas can open the door to all kinds of problems.

As an employer, and per Federal Equal Opportunity Law, you may ask an applicant about anything that directly relates to his or her ability to perform that role. If there are certain characteristics about a person that need to be known in order to determine if he or she can perform the duties of the job, then it is legal to ask for such information.

However, there are some categories that you must not inquire about, either on an application, or in an interview. While some may seem pretty obvious, others may not and can come up in casual conversation.

Avoid the possible legal headache – and keep any questions on the following areas out of your interviews, and off of your applications!

  • Religion and/or religious affiliation*
  • Race, color of skin, and physical attributes
  • Requesting photos with applications
  • Whether the person is, or intends to become a U.S. citizen*
  • Gender*
  • Sexual orientation of applicant
  • Marital status
  • Applicant’s living arrangements
  • If the applicant is pregnant

Remember, key in deciding if an inquiry is appropriate is the relationship between the information sought and the abilities necessary to perform the job

Here are some examples:

Unacceptable: Any inquiry into whether applicant is, or intends to become, a citizen of the United States

Acceptable: After employment, can you submit verification of your legal right to work in the United States?

Unacceptable: Any inquiry about applicant’s lineage, ancestry, national origin, descent, parentage or nationality.

Acceptable: What language(s) the applicant speaks, writes, reads, or understands (may be asked only if language other than English is relevant to the job being applied for).

Important Note: The above points are only examples, and do not take the place of professional legal advice. There are many other categories of discriminatory inquiries that you should be aware of in order to avoid charges of discrimination in hiring.

 

For more information on the topic, enroll in the ePracticeManager HR Course Series!


*Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ) is the only defense to acknowledged discrimination on the basis of religion, sex, or national origin. Click here for the full legal definition from Cornell Law.