It is important that an employer train its interviewing staff to avoid asking questions that are discriminatory in nature. It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of age, race, national origin, religion, sex, sexual preference, marital status, physical handicap, etc (we say “etc” here because we're not experts in the law and there may be other protected classes not listed here; please consult your attorney). To stay out of trouble, ask only questions that directly bear on the candidate's ability to carry out the responsibilities of the job.
Here is a sampling of inappropriate/illegal interviewing questions:
- What is your maiden name?
- Are you married?
- Where does your spouse work?
- Are you pregnant?
- Do you intend to have children?
- How many children do you have? How old are they?
- Can you make adequate provisions for child care?
- How old are you?
- When did you graduate from high school?
- Where were you born?
- What sort of accent is that?
- What kind of name is that?
- Of what country are you a citizen?
- Where did you learn to speak [e.g. Spanish]?
- What language do you speak at home?
- What is your religion?
- What do you do Sunday mornings?
- Would your religion prevent you from working weekends?
- Are you disabled?
- Have you ever filed a workers’ compensation claim?
- How many days were you sick last year?
- Do you have AIDS?
- Have you ever been arrested?
- What kind of discharge did you get from the military?
- Have you ever declared bankruptcy?
- Have you ever had your wages garnished?
- Who is the nearest relative we should contact in case of emergency?
- Do you own your own home?
Job applications serve two purposes. First, applicants may gain information about you, their prospective employer. For example, application forms provide an opportunity for you to communicate your intent to employ at will. The employment at will concept means that either the employee or the employer may terminate the employment relationship at any time or for any cause unless prohibited by law or contract. Second, you may use the job application to find out whether the applicant is qualified for the opening. The job application is one of the tools used for screening applicants. It supplements the information provided on a resume. In seeking information about the applicants, some employers inadvertently ask questions that discriminate against qualified candidates in protected groups.
Many employers don’t have a candidate complete an employment application until later in the recruiting process, i.e. not until a candidate has at least made it through the initial screening process (after all, if a candidate doesn’t get past the initial interview, then the application is moot).
To minimize the potential for employment bias liability, application forms should ask only for job-related information that directly pertains to the applicant's current skills, training and ability to perform the job. Eliminate any questions that are not job-related or are personal in nature. Remove all questions relating to employees rather than applicants, such as benefits information, social security number and emergency contacts. There are many examples of job application forms on the web. And again, if you have any questions about this topic, it is best that you consult your employment law attorney.