Pre-Employment Questions: What Can’t I Ask? And Why?

HR & Safety

An employer should be aware of state and federal guidelines when interviewing.
What may seem to be innocent questions, asked in good faith, can leave your organization open to costly and time-consuming charges of discrimination.
For example, you should NOT ask questions about an applicant’s typing ability unless typing is a requirement for the job to be filled.
Also, you should ask the same questions of men that you ask of women, and make the same inquiries of minority applicants that you make of non-minorities.
If the information is needed for post-employment purposes (e.g., withholding tax), but NOT to determine qualifications for a job, this information should be obtained after the applicant has been hired. Such questions include date of birth, arrests, record of garnishments, etc.
The following represents general guidelines you should follow when interviewing potential job candidates.

It’s Potentially Discriminatory to Ask (or Mention)
Examples of
Acceptable Inquiries
Physical Characteristics
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Color of hair, eyes, etc.
  • Disabilities or medical problems
  • Lifting ___ lbs. is an essential job function. Can you do that with or without reasonable accommodation?
Work Experience
  • Have you ever filed a discrimination charge?
  • Work experience
  • Why did you leave a job?
  • Duties and responsibilities
  • How did you get along with your supervisor?
  • What did you like most about the job? Least?
  • Have you ever changed your name?
  • Original name of applicant whose name has been legally changed
  • What is your name?
  • Nickname?
  • Have you ever been employed under another name?
  • Is there any additional information about nicknames or name change we need to know regarding your application for this position?
  • Do you own/rent your place of residence?
  • Applicant’s place of residence
  • Length of applicant’s residence in this area
Creed and Religion
  • Applicant’s religious affiliation
  • Religious holidays observed by the applicant
  • Do you attend church?
  • None
Race or Color
  • Applicant’s race
  • Color of applicant’s skin
  • None
  • Age
  • Date of birth
  • Date graduated from high school/college
  • Are you below (the minimum age for working in your state?)
  • If hired, can you furnish proof of age?
Education requirements that are not job-related (e.g., you can’t reject applicants for laboring jobs because they don’t have a high school education; or because they have a college degree and therefore are “overqualified.”
  • School attended
  • Grade point average
  • Percent of educational expenses paid by applicant
  • Career goals in reference to academic background
  • What is your citizenship?
  • Are you a U.S. citizen?
  • Are you currently legally authorized to work in the United States?
  • All applicants must present proof of identity and eligibility to work in the U.S.
National Origin
  • Applicant’s national origin, descent, lineage, parentage or nationality
  • Nationality of applicant’s parents
  • Comments about a person’s accent
  • Applicant’s membership in professional, trade or service organizations (except those that would reveal information about an applicant’s race, religion, etc.)
Sex/Sexual Orientation
  • Sex of applicant
  • Applicant’s sexual habits or orientation
  • Views on women’s liberation
  • No acceptable inquiries unless unless sex is a bona fide occupational qualification (valid, job-related inquiries in to an applicant’s personal life should be done in a background investigation).
Marital Status
  • Marital status
  • Marriage plans
  • Name of spouse
  • Birth control measures
  • Number of dependents
  • Ages of dependents
  • Child care arrangements
  • Prior married name
  • How spouse feels about applicant’s working, relocating, traveling out of town, etc.
  • Are there any reasons why you could not relocate (if applicable)?
  • Are there any difficulties in your traveling away from home overnight (if applicable)?
  • How often were you late (or did you leave early)?
  • How would this job affect your current lifestyle? Do you see any detrimental effects?
Criminal Record
  • Arrest record
  • Number and kinds of convictions for felonies.

Note: Recent rulings have held that you cannot reject an applicant solely because he/she has been convicted of a felony, unless the crime is job-related to the position for which the person is applying.
For example, you cannot reject an applicant for an accounting position solely on the basis of a conviction for draft evasion. You could reject the applicant if the conviction were for embezzlement or theft.


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