Holding a job interview is an important way for employers and job seekers to learn more about one another. While these exchanges are valuable, they can also be legally tricky for both sides. Employers need to avoid asking questions or discussing topics that could be viewed as illegally discriminatory. In contrast, job candidates need to avoid offering information that could potentially expose them to illegal discrimination.
Steer clear of these topics whenever possible
Whether asking or answering questions, here are some topics to avoid discussing:
Pregnancy and personal family questions
Seeking/offering information about a candidate’s current pregnancy status or plans to become pregnant should be avoided. Concerns about paid/unpaid parental leave should not be a factor or perceived factor in hiring decisions. You should also refrain from personal questions about a candidate’s marital status. It isn’t relevant and might reveal a candidate’s sexual orientation, which is another protected class.
Disability and the need for accommodations
Some disabilities are visually obvious, while some are “hidden.” Neither should be discussed during the interview, especially not by employers. As an employer, you can detail the job duties, and applicants can decide whether or not they could fulfill those duties. An accommodation may be necessary, but that should be only be discussed after hiring the candidate.
Religion and national origin
These two topics sometimes go hand in hand, but not always. Neither party should ask or offer information about a candidate’s religious beliefs or their national origin. Each is a protected class, and knowing this information could lead to (perceived or real) discriminatory assumptions.
Suppose a candidate was Muslim, for instance. In that case, an employer might assume the employee would request an accommodation for daily prayer at the office (such a request wouldn’t be unreasonable but should not be discussed in the interview).
Certain age and health topics
Candidates often provide their birth date on applications, so employers can usually already determine their age. But asking an older candidate (over 40) about any retirement plans they may have or whether they think they can handle a new technology could easily be seen as discriminatory. Candidates should also avoid offering information on these topics and focus on their experience and skills instead.
Discussing a candidate’s health is also an unwise idea. If they have survived (or currently have) cancer, if they have AIDS or another serious illness, or even if they suffer from something like type II diabetes, these will not be relevant to the job in most cases. If they are discussed/revealed and the candidate doesn’t get hired, they may infer that it was because of their health status (which often intersects with disability status).
The list of off-limits interview topics above is far from complete, but it hopefully gives both sides a better idea of what to avoid.
Striking a balance can be difficult for both sides
Whether you are hiring workers or seeking a job, it can be difficult to strike a balance between being open/friendly and appropriately formal/reserved. But by keeping the information above in mind before going into interviews, you can keep the focus where it belongs and not have to wonder if you asked or revealed too much.