Surviving HR: Conducting Interviews Part 2

Now that we have talked about conducting your initial interview with your select applicants in my previous post, it is time to talk about what NOT to ask in an interview. There is a very fine line on what you can and cannot ask a job applicant.  There are also ways to ask the questions you are not supposed to ask.  While there are thousands of website posts that will tell you how to walk that line, I like to just steer clear of these all together.  After all, the last thing you want to do is get yourself in a legal battle of he said she said. Below I list the some of the things you cannot ask as well as a few things that I was surprised that you can ask.  I am by no means an HR expert or qualified to give legal advise, however I think you will find these lists a good jumping off point for your own research.

Nationality – You cannot ask about someones nationality, however you do need to confirm they are legally allowed to work in the US.  I find it easiest to just wait until they fill out their I9 to verify this.  You are also able to ask what languages they speak and/or write fluently.

Religion – It seems that religion and politics are topics best left out of any conversation these days, especially in the workplace.  You cannot ask ANYTHING about a persons religious or political views so just avoid it all together.

Age and gender – These are things you will inevitably find out when you complete their new hire paperwork, however you cannot ask an employee how old they are or what gender they are (or are associated with). You can however ask if they are over the age of 18, which may be an important question depending on the position you are hiring for or your states laws.

Marital and Family Status –  While you will most likely come to learn about an employees marital and family status during while completing their new hire paperwork and/or getting to know them at work on a more personal level, you cannot ask about their status.  You can however ask if they are available to work overtime and who should be contacted in case of an emergency.  In my experience people like talking about their family and they often come up in the interview, usually when I mention mine in conversation.

Health and Physical Ability – You can ask if a person is able to lift a certain amount, stand for a period of time, and/or endure a certain type of condition at work. I generally explain the job requirements and just feel out the applicants reaction.  If I say “it hits about 90 degrees in the warehouse in the summer, you are on your feet all day, and lift 25-30lb boxes often” and they look at me with a look of terror, I know they are not going to work out.  On my in case of emergency form for new hires, I ask if there is anything they want us to know. This leaves it open and legal and I find that most employees with health conditions want me to know so I know how to handle any potential issues.  I once had an employee who was prone to random seizures, which we knew about.  I found her on the floor in the hall once in the middle of one and I was able to take the correct action because she felt comfortable sharing that information with me.  You can’t force it but in most cases people want to disclose information that will help them.

What other questions or topics do you steer clear of in an interview?

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