Small business owners: Do you know what questions are illegal to ask job candidates?

Be careful what questions you ask of job candidates; some questions are illegal.

Be careful what questions you ask of job candidates; some questions are illegal.

When I moved to Boston in 1970, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act was still a few years away from becoming law. The economy wasn’t that great, so it took me two months and many, many interviews to land a job. I quickly lost track of the intrusive personal questions I was asked. All but a few interviews included questions about my plans regarding marriage and children. Getting married and having children were very far from my mind, and so I bristled each time I had to explain that I had no plans of that nature. Plenty of interviewers responded in a way that led me to believe they didn’t actually believe my answer, which was even more irritating. But, of course, it being a job interview, all I could do was smile.

It’s annoying to find that many employers are still asking such questions, even though it has been illegal to do so for over 40 years! According to survey results released this spring by CareerBuilder, 20% of hiring managers indicated they have asked a question in a job interview only to find out later that the question was illegal to ask. More than 2,100 hiring managers and HR managers across numerous industries participate in the nationwide survey.

The question this survey raises for me is that if hiring managers and HR managers in larger companies – with plenty of training and resources available to them regarding employment law issues – don’t know the law about what you can legally ask a job applicant, what are the odds that the average small business owner will know?

The interview questions below are illegal. Have you been guilty of asking them of job candidates for your small business? If so, you need to stop. If you don’t, you face the risk of legal action from a job candidate who thinks he/she didn’t get a job because of an answer given to one of these questions.

Illegal interview questions

What is your religious affiliation?

What is your political affiliation?

Are you pregnant?

What is your race, color or ethnicity?

How old are you?

Are you married?

Are you disabled?

Do you have children or plan to?

Are you in debt?

The Internet offers plenty of information about what questions you can legitimately ask of a job candidate. This article from Business Insider provides questions that will get at the information you need to decide if a job candidate is right for your small business.

It can be hard for small business owners to keep on top of ever-changing employment law. One thing you might consider is having an HR consultant among your key advisors. Such a person can help you learn the basics – such as what questions not to ask on job interviews – along with keeping you abreast of new developments that might affect your relationship with your small business employees.

1 comment

  1. I believe it will be harder for small businesses to know the laws going forward because the owners are now hiring and conducting business on an international level.

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