3 Tips for Asking Legal Interview Questions

Anyone who has conducted an interview has at one point had this thought run through her head: “Can I
ask that?” Employment anti-discrimination laws apply to every aspect of employment, from the job
advertisement to termination. Knowing what you can legally ask in an interview will protect you from a
discrimination claim down the road.

Know what is off limits

In the interview process, you can’t take a person's race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity,
sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information
into account. Questions directly asking whether an applicant is a member of one these protected classes
are clearly prohibited.

Avoid ambiguity

There is a gray area when the questions you ask enable you to infer that the applicant is a member of a
protected class. For example, it seems fairly obvious that you shouldn’t ask an applicant in an interview
how old he is, but you also should avoid asking:

  • When did you graduate high school?
  • When do you plan on retiring?
  • Are you comfortable working with Millennials?

These questions will likely help you guess the applicant’s age. They will also likely cause you to get sued
if you don’t hire an applicant who is 40 or older.

Stick to the script


Too often interviewers ask unrelated questions to get a “feel” for the applicant. There are ways of
knowing whether an applicant is qualified and a good fit without asking off-the-cuff questions that may
elicit information that you can’t legally take into account.

The best practices are:

1. Have a pre-determined set of questions for the pool of applicants.
2. Have a documented, uniform scoring system for their answers.
3. If you’re trying to determine whether an employee is a good fit, discuss ideal workplace behaviors.
4. Ask questions that are specific to the job requirements.
5. Ask about the applicant’s qualifications that specifically relate to the job.

You should never have to question whether what you asked was legal. The key to a legal interview is avoiding questions that may elicit information that an applicant is a member of a protected class. If the applicant provides unprompted information, move on and ask your legal questions. Interviews are inherently artificial; don’t be afraid to follow strict guidelines. It may save you from a lawsuit. 

Need some help drafting interview questions? Contact MBA today!