Hiring a new employee can be a difficult process. Between attracting the right applicants, sending them through a screening process, and scheduling interviews, it takes a lot of work to find the right person to fit the role you’re trying to fill. By the time you finally get to the interviewing process, you may think that you’ve almost reached the finish line and can let your guard down, but the truth is that the interview is probably the most important part of the hiring process for your company, and can have legal ramifications if not handled properly. Here are a few things to avoid when interviewing that will protect you from legal trouble down the road.

Asking Illegal Questions

This may seem like an obvious one, but some seemingly innocent questions can actually be deemed discriminatory when looked at through a different lens. For example, if you notice the applicant went to the same high school as you did, your first thought might be to ask in what year they graduated, thinking that you’re simply finding something that you have in common. Unfortunately, according to The Hartford, since this question could be used to determine the candidate’s age, you could actually get in trouble for violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

While your motives may be innocent, you should operate under the assumption that anything you say could be taken as discriminatory, since the applicant doesn’t know your true intent. Here are just a few seemingly innocent questions to avoid when interviewing:

• What area do you live in?
While it’s fine to ask if the commute to your place of business would be doable for them, asking what part of town the candidate lives in could be misconstrued as mining for information about their financial or ethnic background.

• Would you be comfortable being overseen by a young manager?
This one is also about age. This question implies that you’ve noticed that the applicant is older than your average manager and therefore might consider it a reason not to hire them.

• Where is your accent from?
This one is fairly obvious, as it might be taken as racial discrimination or bias.

• How many kids do you have?
Asking for information about the candidate’s children or if they’re planning on having children may been seen as discriminatory.

• What is your current salary?
In New York City, Philadelphia, Massachusetts, Delaware, California, Oregon or Puerto Rico, it is illegal to ask about a candidate’s salary history. This law is likely to expand in the coming years, so it is best to avoid this question regardless of your geographical area.

• When was the last time you used drugs?
It is illegal to discriminate against those who use prescription drugs and recovering addicts. If you feel the need to ask a question regarding drug use, you must specifically inquire about “illegal drug” use.

• Have you ever been arrested or had a brush with the law?
Attempting to ask about arrest history can be viewed as racial discrimination, since minorities tend to be arrested more on average than Caucasian people.

One great way to protect yourself against potential legal trouble because of your interviewing process is to have a standard set of (legal) questions that you ask every candidate. This shows that you hold the same standards for every applicant, and lets you focus on the conversation you’re having with a potential employee, rather than worrying about being sued.

If you are unsure if your questions fall within legal requirements, reach out to a human resources professional for a review to make sure you avoid any that can be seen as discriminatory and bring you potential legal ramifications.

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