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6 Illegal Interview Questions You Shouldn't Ask

6 Illegal Interview Questions You Shouldn't Ask


August 06, 2010

ILLEGAL: “How much do you weigh?”
LEGAL: “Are you comfortable with lifting heavy objects?”

If there are physical requirements for a job, then you may need to know some details about a candidate’s health. However, asking directly about weight/height and general health is a major HR no-no. Not to mention potentially embarrassing for the person you’re interviewing! But rephrasing the question to ask about a candidate’s ability to perform a specific task is fair game and essential.

ILLEGAL: “Do you have any disabilities? Any recent illnesses or operations?”
LEGAL: “Are you able to perform the essential job functions?”

Discriminating against the disabled, whether in a wheelchair or clinically depressed, is a classic example of illegal hiring practices. But you still have a right to make sure candidates can do the job they’re hired for, so be sure to rephrase the question accordingly.

ILLEGAL: “Ever been arrested?”
LEGAL: “Ever been convicted of ___?”

A general question about someone’s (criminal) past is off topic, but a more targeted question regarding questionable behavior — as it relates to the job — is okay. For example, if you were hiring for a job as a magician, it’s appropriate to ask if candidates have ever been convicted of fraud in their line of work.

It’s not so much what the question is asking, but how the question is asked. Federal and state laws prevent you from asking interviewees about subjects unrelated to the job. Before you enter an interview, take into consideration the nature of the job, the context of the situation, and of course, the phrasing of the question. Write out your questions ahead of time and read them directly from your notes or create a form with the trickiest questions so you don’t accidentally ask something that’s off-limits. If you do, candidates could seek legal counsel and your reputation – not to mention your job – could be in danger. So stick to your list, follow the law, and good luck hiring!

Quiz: Are You Prepared for Your Interview?

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