As employers we know that certain interview questions about personal information are illegal to ask potential candidates. Any questions about age, gender, marital status, family, religion, sexual orientation, citizenship (and there are more categories) are strictly forbidden.
Asking these types of questions can put the company and/or interviewer at risk for breaking state and federal laws. It also puts the interviewee in an awkward position on whether to answer the questions or not. If they answer, there is a chance of being discriminated against or ruled out for a position based on the personal beliefs of the person asking the questions. If they do not answer, there is a high probability of not being offered a position.
Are there times, however, when illegal questions should be allowed? For example, it doesn’t make sense to ask a female candidate if she has children when she is applying for an hourly retail position; but would it matter if she was applying at a daycare. Her answer, depending on the age of her children, could give insight on what she looks for in a child caregiver and how their business fits those requirements. Remember, it has to be a good fit for both the employer and the employee.
The truth is that under certain situations, the candidate expects a certain level of personal questions to be asked. The woman applying for a position at a daycare would not be surprised if she was asked if she had children, how many she had, and their ages. It doesn’t make the questions any less illegal, but it may give valuable information concerning job functions and ability; plus the questions are expected.
What if both parties agree to ask and answer questions openly and honestly regardless of their legality? The concept in itself is a slippery slope, because there is a level of assumption that the candidate understands and recognizes legal and illegal interview questions; which can still result in the person being discriminated against, or not being offered a position based on their answers.
Sometimes illegal questions are asked without the interviewer even realizing what they did. You’ll see this a lot in “icebreaking” situations, or when there is informality to the meeting. These types of situations can become difficult if the person being interviewed recognizes a forbidden question and deflects or refuses to answer, especially when the question was unintentional.
Should interview questions be a “one size fits all” in their legality when it comes to personal information? If so, how do we keep companies from asking certain types of questions?
At the end of the day, does it really matter what someone’s personal stats are if they are able to satisfactorily perform the duties of their job?
April Salsbury, MBA is a strategist, an analyst, an operational guru, a recognized leader and C-suite global healthcare executive with drive and focus for competitive markets. Co-host of The Business Forum Show and regular contributor to various business journals, she possess multi-functional and multi-national competencies with more than 15 years experience in business and healthcare. Her expertise is in invigorating revenue growth and infusing value of lean practices in growing companies through improvements to cash flow and operations management.
Fueling revenue, growth and profit, Salsbury & Co. is a consultancy firm focused on helping businesses and healthcare organizations achieve excellency. Our specialists have executive experience combined with deep functional expertise to provide our clients with services that drive real impact and results.
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