Human Resources News & Insights

3 ‘harmless’ job interview questions that always land HR in big legal trouble

HR pros probably go out of their way to avoid asking obvious questions about race, age, gender and disability during job interviews.
But it’s often the “innocent” queries that stray into off-limit topics and wind up coming back
to haunt employers.

Here are three “harmless” interview questions to tell managers to avoid, courtesy of the Ogletree Deakins law firm:

“When did you graduate from high school?”

Interviewers often ask this question as an attempt to make some type of a personal connection with the job applicant.

Reason: Say the applicant happens to be over 40 years old and doesn’t get the job. He can point to that specific question as proof the interview used age-related questions on which to base the hiring decision.

“How’d you injure yourself?”

It’s a common enough scenario: An applicant comes to an interview with a cane, the interviewer assumes it’s for a temporary injury and asks about the origins of the injury.

If the injury isn’t temporary and it’s a disability, the interviewer has effectively raised the question of an applicant’s disability. And that’s a problem.

“You married? Any kids?”

When an interviewer even hints at seeking information about family status, it can trip up a legal landmine. In fact, in many states marital or familial status is a protected classification employers can’t inquire about.

Even if the applicant bring up the topic, attorneys suggest avoiding questions about the family situation.

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  • Sometimes it’s hard to find the right questions to identify the best employee without tripping on a landmine. Staying true to the job requirements should keep you out of trouble most of the time. I can definitely see how these simple questions can lead to unintended consequences.

    Try to avoid anything that has something to do with personal stuff, only ask questions related to their work experience, skill set, what they can do to help the company improve, why did they apply to the company, etc.