Legal Pitfalls to Avoid During Interviews

March 2014

Hiring managers and human resources departments are typically responsible for selecting new employees and holding interviews. While it may appear to be a simple task, there are many legal pitfalls that interviewers must be aware of so they do not legally compromise the company. 

Human resources departments or any personnel responsible for parts of the interview process must be aware of the most current employment laws in order to conduct a legally sound interview. Even some seemingly harmless chit-chat may result in legal trouble if it discusses topics related to discrimination, including children, disabilities, religion, etc.

As a staffing firm, it’s our job to make sure we are up to date with legal technicalities. We mitigate any risk related to interviews and it’s one of the many reasons companies seek out our services.

Below are a few major legal interview pitfalls to avoid:

- Health Concerns: Stay away from questions that ask about the applicant’s health, including how frequently the applicant takes sick days. If the applicant does not get the position, they can blame it on disability discrimination. If the position requires a certain level of performance, such as heavy lifting or constant standing, it is appropriate to inquire about the applicant’s health related to the job responsibilities.

- Family Topics: Be cautious with questions and topics related to family situations, childcare responsibilities and children in general. Interviewers can ask whether the applicant can fulfill the established work schedule, but cannot ask how many children they have or what their childcare schedule is like. In addition, since women are most often the primary caretakers for children, these questions can open the realm of sexual discrimination.

- Religion: Refrain from questions and comments that refer to an applicant’s religious ties, denomination, or even religious holidays observed.  Even something as simple as complimenting a cross necklace can have legal implications.

- Race/Ancestry: Anything related to where the applicant was born, customs, origin, etc. must be avoided. It’s even illegal to request a birth certificate or proof of citizenship before employment.

The bottom line is that interviews should be conducted with discretion, tact, and mutual respect. All questions should be professional and job-related, not personal or invasive.