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By James Pruitt– Staff Writer

The interview process should strike a balance. On one hand, employers must vet potential hires fairly and accurately. On the other, questions about race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, national identity, family status, age, disability, or even genetics can land a potential employer in hot water, as well as alienate some of the best talent.

The EEOC ( provides guidelines that offer protection from sensitive situations. While new employers must necessarily find the right “fit,” certain guidelines can keep your organization out of legal and ethical hot water. There are several rules of thumb that can help interviewers avoid murky waters.

Mindfulness is important with personal banter in initial contacts with the potential hire. and relevance is key. The characteristics and circumstances of the employee only really matter in so far as they relate to the job itself and the tasks at hand. Employers should avoid direct questions when other avenues for inquiry are available.  Most importantly, employers should stay frank about which skills and characteristics are necessary for the job itself.

As a guideline to ensuring a fair interview process, certain specific questions can be pinpointed as hazardous to an employer’s relationship with the EEOC. The following seven common interview questions can land prospective employers in hot water.

First:  Interviewers should avoid questions about graduation dates. Some local employers may seep into innocent banter with such a subject, especially with a shared alma mater. However, other employers may use this question for discriminatory purposes. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits interview questions that seek to discern age. Such questions must be avoided.

Second: Questions about legal troubles must stay relevant. Of course, employers need to ask certain questions to ensure a safe and functional workplace. For example, generally, convictions for fraud are relevant for workers who handle money. However, a past conviction for a low-level drug offense may not be relevant for a cashier or warehouse position. Consider the link between the offense and the actual duties.

Third:  Questions about family can lead an employer down a tricky path. Despite the temptation to slip into personal banter in an initial encounter, questions about marital status or family size can leave an employer at risk for an EEOC challenge.

Fourth:  Interviewers should avoid questions or remarks about company culture that relate to age. This can cast a broad net. Some specifics that commonly relate to company culture involve the prospect of having a boss, medical leave and family issues. Leading questions that may entrap candidates into admitting the responsibilities and burdens of an older worker are best avoided.

Fifth:  If the interviewer notices an accent, this is best kept to oneself. In fact, employers should leave geographical origin out of the interview process in general. Such questions may relate to race or national origin.

Sixth:   Use caution about questions regarding salary history. Certain jurisdictions outright ban questions about current salary, such as New York City, Philadelphia, Massachusetts, Delaware, California, Oregon, and Puerto Rico.

Seventh:  Employers should avoid questions relevant to medical history. Many employers may use such questions to gauge fitness or possible attendance. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) renders discrimination based on disability or perceived disability illegal unless relevant to the job. Questions about medication use fit into a similar aura. Such questions are best avoided absent clear concerns that a worker’s health directly impairs their ability to fulfill everyday duties.

Discrimination is not the only danger lurking in the interview process. Unfulfillable promises may land the employer in the courtroom under contract law. To win over a favorite candidate, employers sometimes hide the truth to make a position more attractive. Unfulfillable promises could result in lawsuits for breach of contract. Employers must never make promises they cannot keep. Examples may include promises of benefits, permanent status, and opportunities for advancement within the company. Employers must avoid such promises unless the opportunities for the candidate are genuinely realistic.

Also, employers should use the same set of questions for each candidate. Deviating from a certain template of questions in the interview process could sprout suspicions of favoritism or discrimination. For example, asking only female candidates if they can work long hours could raise eyebrows during a discrimination suit. Tailoring specific questions to specific candidates could also lead to accusations of nepotism, favoritism, or other biases. Whether or not a discrimination suit arises, the image of an unfair hiring process will inevitably harm an employer’s reputation.

In conclusion, common sense should prevail during the hiring process. Interview questions should remain relevant to the job at hand, and the employer should be honest and up-front about the nature of the job and what they can offer the employee. Such transparency is crucial to maintaining an employer’s reputation.

Disclaimer:   VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association recommends on any legal matter that you consult a licensed attorney.  We are not attorneys and are not providing legal advice.  Please be advised that this article is written from research and is purely informational.   We encourage you to consult an attorney.

*** We hope you enjoyed this excellent article by James Pruitt, our new writer.   Stay tuned for his bio and learn more about James.