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May 17, 2024 Employment Law

What Not to Ask Applicants in Job Interviews

Job interviews are simultaneously one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking steps in the employment search process. They also pose challenges for employers, as it can often be difficult to determine whether a candidate will be a good fit for the position just by asking them a series of questions. Employers must also stay within the bounds of employment anti-discrimination laws, which apply to both employees and applicants. Our Richmond employment lawyers can help employers stay away from interview questions that could land them in hot water. 

Disability-Related Questions 

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for qualified employees. Some examples of questions that could run afoul of the ADA include: 

  • Do you have a disability? 
  • Do mental health conditions run in your family?
  • Have you ever filed a workers’ compensation or Social Security disability claim? 

Instead, employers may ask candidates whether they will be physically able to perform the specified job duties and whether they need accommodations. 

Age-Related Questions

Age discrimination is illegal under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which prohibits employment discrimination against workers age 40 and above. Examples of questions that could violate the ADEA include: 

  • How old are you? 
  • How long have you been in the workforce? 
  • What year did you graduate high school? 

Employers may ask candidates if they are over or under a certain age if there are legal restrictions on the age of employees, such as being over the age of 18 to serve alcohol.  

Sex, Gender, and Family-Related Questions 

Sex discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation, is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Avoiding sex, gender, and family-related questions can sometimes be tricky, as some questions implicate sex only indirectly. A few examples of those kinds of questions include: 

  • What is your maiden name? 
  • Do you have or plan to have children? 
  • Does your husband support you working outside the house? 

While an employee’s sex can be a bona fide occupational qualification in some very rare instances, employers generally should steer clear of any questions related to a candidate’s sex, gender, or family. 

Questions About the Applicant’s Criminal Record 

The “ban the box” movement has gained significant traction nationwide over the last few years, and Virginia has joined in. Virginia Code § 19.2-389.3 prohibits employers and educational institutions from requiring applicants to disclose “any arrest, criminal charge, or conviction…when the record relating to such arrest, criminal charge, or conviction is not open for public inspection.” A separate section of the Virginia Code also prohibits localities from asking similar questions to applicants for municipal employment, with certain exceptions. 

Ask the Right Interview Questions With Guidance From a Richmond Employment Lawyer 

Finding well-qualified candidates for open positions is difficult, and it is easy for employers to inadvertently breach anti-discrimination laws during the interview and hiring process. To minimize the chances of making such mistakes, please speak to a Richmond employment lawyer at Pierce / Jewett by calling 804-502-2320 or using our online contact form.