The Illegal Interview

There is no denying as a small business owner you are a jack of all trades, but unlike seasoned HR reps, your skills as a job interviewer may need more than a little practice.  For example, some business owners might not realize that the process of interviewing can make them stumble into some illegal trenches.

Yes, it is possible to ask a question that could fuel a discrimination case.  (Not so fun fact: workplace discrimination cases average a payout of $200,000 and can go as high as seven figures.)  That is why it is important to consider the interview questions that could get your business into trouble.  Keep yourself out of the hot seat and brush up on these inappropriate interview questions before you ever mutter the words, “please, take a seat.”


Don’t ask:  What religious holidays do you observe?

Because:  It is considered wrong to inquire about someone’s religious beliefs.

Instead ask:  Can you commit to our necessary work schedule?


Don’t ask:  Do you belong to any social clubs?

Because:  This could open your candidate up to sharing political or religious affiliations.

Instead ask:  Do you belong to any organizations that are directly related to our industry?


Don’t ask:  How old are you?

Because:  You cannot hire (or not hire) someone based on age alone.

Instead ask:  Are you over the age of 18?


Don’t ask: How many more years do you have before you plan to retire?

Because:  It opens you up to age discrimination.

Instead ask:  What are your career goals for the long-term?


Don’t ask:  Do you have kids?

Because:  This could be considered discriminatory if you hire (or not hire) someone based on personal lifestyle choices.

Instead ask:  Sometimes we require overtime and the occasional travel.  Is your schedule flexible enough to allow this?


Don’t ask:  Last year at your last job, how many sick days did you take?

Because:  Someone’s personal health issues are none of your business.

Instead ask:  How many days of work did you miss at your last job?


Don’t ask:  Do you have any illnesses or issues that would prevent you from doing this job?

Because: The American Disabilities Act protects people from this type of discrimination.

Instead ask:  Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodations?


Don’t ask:  How far is your commute?

Because:  You cannot hire (or not hire) someone based on location.

Instead ask:  Can you make it to work every day by 9am?


Don’t ask: Are you a part of the Army Reserves?

Because:  It is illegal to discriminate based on military commitments.

Instead ask:  Do you have any upcoming events that could require you to be out of work for a lengthened period of time?

While you may run your small business like a family, inappropriate (and too personal) interview questions could get you reported to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.  In general you need to be sure to avoid topics that touch on age, race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, religion, disability, marital, family status or pregnancy.

As a small business owner who works hard to wear every necessary hat – the last thing you need is your interviewing practices to label you as discriminatory.  Shy away from these pitfall questions to protect your business and its reputation.

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