Considering Illegal Interview Questions

There are certain questions that most HR professionals try to shy away from, in some cases because of a belief that those questions are “illegal.” Some common examples of questions that are considered to be “illegal” include questions about a person’s age, marital status, or citizenship. Asking whether someone has kids is also generally considered to be “illegal” as well.

Are These Interview Questions Really “Illegal”?

The reality, however, is that while asking these questions could potentially start trouble, simply asking about someone’s kids or spouse is not illegal per se. As a recent CBS News article points out, the problem with these questions exists because they could potentially provide an employer with information that is used to discriminate against someone.

Discrimination is illegal based on a person’s race, religion, national origin, gender or age. In addition, discriminating against someone because he or she has kids is often considered to be a form of gender discrimination if the manager or employer acts upon stereotypes indicating that women spend more time taking are of the kids or otherwise have their careers impacted as a result of having children.

When an employer or manager who is hiring asks these questions, therefore, this could be an indication to potential employees that the employer is going to discriminate based on some prohibited reason or based on their protected class.

Best Practices

The CBS News article tackling the issue of illegal interview questions indicated that there is not a significant risk in asking questions that might in some way reveal information about a person’s protected status. As the article points out, much of this information is available to employers anyway by virtue of looking at a person or seeing a wedding ring.

While the article recommends keeping the questions job focused, it therefore also suggests that there’s no reason to be paranoid about making conversation about someone’s kids.


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