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What HR Needs to Know About Asking Illegal Interview Questions

What HR Needs to Know About Asking Illegal Interview Questions

Did you know that asking when a job candidate graduated high school can get you into hot water? There are numerous regulations to ensure equal employment opportunities in the U.S., and it’s important that HR is aware of which questions are allowed and which are prohibited. 

As an HR professional, you may not actually conduct the bulk of candidate interviews, but you may find yourself ultimately responsible for compliance. Sharing this information with hiring managers will help keep your organization in line with federal regulations.


The Civil Rights Act of 1964

Some of the first major anti-discrimination regulation in the U.S., this Act created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It prohibits asking about gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or race.


The Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967

This act prohibits making hiring choices based on age. Asking a lot of age-related questions can suggest your motive is discriminatory.


The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 

This act made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical decisions.

You cannot ask about whether a candidate plans to have children, but you can ask if the candidate can meet job requirements, including attendance, travel or relocation—each of which could be affected by whether a candidate has children. But you can only ask these questions if you ask them to all candidates. If you are only asking these questions of women, you may be found to be out of compliance.


The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 

This act prohibits hiring managers from asking applicants about their nationality or ancestry. With this in mind, you can ask about legal eligibility to work in the U.S., as well as for proof of citizenship or visa. 


The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 

You cannot ask about physical or mental disabilities, medications, or workers comp history, though you can ask if candidates can perform essential job functions.

Medical exams are not permitted until a job offer is presented, and are generally limited to "fitness for duty" situations.


Salary History Bans

More recently, 18 states and 17 localities have enacted salary history bans. These rules are aimed at ending pay discrimination, and mean that you cannot ask about salary history. 

A general rule of thumb is that job relevance is the key factor for any questions. If a question doesn’t have an obvious connection to the work a candidate is applying for, it probably shouldn’t be asked in an interview. 

This blog is intended for informational purposes only & does not constitute legal advice.

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