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Refreshing Insights

It’s not unusual to start off an interview with some pleasantries before diving into the nitty gritty of qualifications, experience and salary expectations. After all, those first impressions are important on both sides. For the employer and potential recruit alike, it’s crucial to establish rapport and trust early on.

But it’s all too easy for those conversations to cross the line established by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which has established guidelines for what’s appropriate to ask when interviewing employees. In fact, more than one in three respondents in a survey indicated they were asked about their age during an interview, and more than half of older adults were asked if they were married — both illegal questions to ask during the hiring process.

Hiring managers and business owners who are responsible for interviewing candidates need to be aware of regulations that prohibit certain questions from being asked. Failure to comply could result in a complaint being filed with the EEOC and a potential lawsuit if the issues can’t be resolved. Let’s take a look at some common questions you shouldn’t ask and alternative ways to get to know your candidate a little better. 

1. What year did you graduate high school? 

Sounds innocent enough, but asking this question equates to asking a person his or her age. Since the vast majority of people graduate high school when they’re 17 or 18 years of age, it’s easy for an interviewer to estimate a candidate’s age.


Are you at least 25 years old? The reason this questions may be appropriate is if the candidate is required to drive a company vehicle. As part of many organizations’ insurance requirements, delivery drivers, for example, need to be a certain minimum age. If there are other age requirements for performing duties, such as serving alcohol, it is appropriate to confirm their eligibility status. Otherwise, steer clear.

2. Are you married and do you have children?

Who doesn’t love talking about his or her family? Often, however, this question can suggest that a candidate’s ability to do the job might be hindered by family obligations outside of work, or that future plans for having children might lead to an FMLA request.


Do you have any commitments that might prevent you from working the assigned hours or completing your assigned duties? Also, a simple “Tell me about yourself” may open the door for candidates to voluntarily share about their lives outside of their career. Asking any specific family-related questions, however, is off limits. 

Find the Balance Between Culture and Experience3. Have you ever been injured on the job?

This question conflicts with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and is usually intended to find out if a candidate has ever filed a workers’ compensation claim or if he or she has a physical or mental disability. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities, both during the hiring process and once hired for the job. 


Are you able to carry out the job duties as described? It’s reasonable to outline any manual labor, lifting requirements or other job duties that require certain physical abilities.

4. What country are you from?

Natural curiosity could lead you to ask about his or her country of origin, but resist the temptation. It could lead to a discrimination claim based on the applicant’s culture or race. Likewise, questions about what part of the state or what neighborhood they’re from are also inappropriate.


Are you legally eligible to work in the U.S.? This can establish that the applicant has gone through proper measures to comply with the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Otherwise, the topic of a person’s nationality or country of origin is always off limits. Once again, a simple “Tell me about yourself” may serve as an open-ended question that leads to a candidate willingly disclosing this information.

5. What religious holidays do you celebrate?

Employers sometimes ask this question to see if a candidate’s personal religious observations might interfere with work schedules, but it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion. Likewise, asking what church a candidate attends or if they belong to any organizations is also prohibited.


Are you willing to work Sundays? This question is appropriate when determining if a candidate has any scheduling conflicts. Otherwise, asking about religion is always off limits unless the hiring organization is a religious corporation, association, educational institution or society where religious beliefs are an occupational qualification.

There are many other questions — and varying forms of those inquiries — that are inappropriate and prohibited by federal law, such as questions about a person’s sexual orientation, criminal background, military discharge and other personal information. It’s best to err on the side of caution and familiarize yourself with the EEOC’s guidelines.

If you’re uncertain about proper hiring protocols, it’s best to enlist the help of an HR professional who is skilled at conducting interviews and understands the various nuances involved. If your company lacks a dedicated HR person or simply needs help ensuring compliance in the area of hiring practices, contact the team at McClone for a complimentary HR needs assessment. We’ll gladly sit down with you to examine your unique HR needs.


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A collection of articles from the McClone team with the helpful knowledge and insights to ensure your organization is well protected.