Allevity Blog

Top Five Questions Employers Should Not Ask During a Job Interview

Jan 28, 2014

That sharply dressed fashionista sitting across from you during a job interview can comment on your tie, the prayer flags hanging in your office, or that photo of your children. You, however, cannot respond in kind; at least not unless you want to put your business at risk for discrimination.

Most of us became familiar with what constitutes discrimination once the lawsuits and media coverage started peaking in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Yet these five questions continue to be the top five illegal questions employers ask. We’re not asking you to read them and weep, but we are strongly suggesting you let your staff know the facts — that these questions are illegal to ask:

When did you graduate from high school? 

Do the math. Clever, right? People used to get around the law about asking someone how old they were by asking when they graduated from high school. They figured they’d just take the age people are at graduation — 17 or 18, and count forward, guesstimating the person’s age within a couple of years. It only took a few people denied a job because of age discrimination for attorneys to learn how to do the math too. When attorneys won age discrimination settlements far in excess of the gross national product of a small country it became pretty clear that the point is—asking someone when they graduated is illegal.

Where were you born?

There are no circumstances in which you may ask this during an interview. Even if the applicant shows up with green skin, antenna sticking out of their head, and four eyes, and you’re wondering if they have cannibalistic tendencies, you cannot say, “So, are you from Mars? Venus? Where exactly were you born?”  The only question you may ask in regards to national origin is if the applicant is eligible to legally work in the United States.

Do you have a family?

We know you’re just thinking ahead to the office Christmas party and how many gifts to buy, but the law frowns on asking if a potential employee has a family. People with families will almost always ask you about things like sick days, personal leave, and flex time. Don’t ask why they’re asking and don’t ask anything remotely or directly related to their familial status. Even if they volunteer they’re a two-mommy or two-daddy family, or are poly-parenting, just nod, smile and change the subject. 

What church do you go to?

Whether your potential employee goes to church, attends synagogue or dresses in black robes and stands in a circle of salt under a full moon, you can’t ask about a person’s religious preferences, practices or profession of faith. Even a lack of faith in anything falls under “religious status” so just steer clear. 

Have you ever taken a leave of absence from a prior job?

Many employers consider their greatest competitor for human resources — parenthood and pregnancy.  The only way around asking the very blatantly illegal question: “Do you have children or are you planning a family?”  is to ask about if someone has ever taken a leave of absence. Yet the courts consider asking about “a leave of absence” short-hand for: “Any chance you’re going to get pregnant and leave us in limbo for three months?”  So don’t ask.

It’s really simple to avoid getting in trouble. Just focus on job performance not personal performance. You’re hiring an adult. Trust them to figure out childcare, religious holidays and family matters!

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