(By Barry Moltz)

When it’s time to interview applicants for an open position, many small-business owners never prepare for the interview. Instead, they wait for the applicant to be seated, look down at the resume on their desk and start asking the first thing that pops into their head.

As a result, they not only ask the wrong questions, but they often ask ones that are just plain illegal. This can leave the company exposed to future legal issues.

To protect yourself and your business from potential lawsuits, take a look at these 10 illegal questions you should never ask and what to possibly do instead to obtain similar information:

1. “How old are you?” Because employers can’t hire—or not hire—based on age discrimination, this question is off limits.

What to do instead: To get this same information, look over an applicant’s resume to see what year they graduated from high school or college. Most people graduate high school at 18 and college at 22. Then do the math!

2. “What is the ethnic origin of your name?” Anything related to where the applicant was born or their customs must be avoided. It’s even illegal to request a birth certificate or proof of citizenship before employment.

What to do instead: Nothing. There’s no business need for this information.

3. “If you work full time, who takes care of your children?” Interviewers can ask whether the applicant can fulfill the established work schedule, but they cannot ask how many children the applicant has or what their child-care arrangements are. In addition, since women are most often their children’s primary caretakers, these questions can quickly open the possibility of sexual discrimination.

What to do instead: Ask, “Do you think you can fulfill the time responsibilities of this job?”

4. “How many sick days did you take at your last job?” Or worse, “Why are you limping?” If these type of questions are asked and the applicant doesn’t get the position, they can blame it on disability discrimination.

What to do instead: If the position requires a certain level of performance, such as heavy lifting or constant standing, it’s appropriate to inquire about the applicant’s health related to these job responsibilities. For instance, it would be acceptable to ask, “Can you carry out all necessary assigned job functions and perform them in a safe manner?”

5. “Where did you get that beautiful cross you’re wearing?” Refrain from any questions or comments that refer to an applicant’s religion or observed holidays.

What to do instead: Nothing. A person’s religion should have no bearing on the job you’re hiring him or her for. Be careful not to comment on anything the applicant is wearing or their physical appearance.

6. “Have you ever been arrested?” Do not inquire about arrests without convictions. Companies can only check into a person’s arrest or conviction record if they’re related to the responsibilities of the future job.

What to do instead: Only ask these types of questions for jobs that are related to handling money or security.

7. “What is a name of a relative we can contact in case of an emergency?” You may be attempting to find out whether the person you’re interviewing is related to someone who already works for you or for one of your customers.

What to do instead: If you’re looking for possible conflicts, use a site like Ancestry.com to find possible relatives in your company or at a customer’s company.

8. “Where did you learn to speak ___?” Don’t inquire how a language was learned since it could be seen as discrimination.

What to do instead: Nothing. There’s no business need for this information.

9. “Does your spouse work?” Many interviewers want to know if the applicant is the sole financial provider for their family. Unfortunately, this is none of your business.

What to do instead: Search LinkedIn or other social media sites for this information.

10. “Can I take a photo of you for our records?” Taking photos of an applicant before he or she is hired is illegal. It can lead to many claims of discrimination.

What to do instead: Nothing. There is no reason you need a photo of any job applicant.

Many questions seem harmless, but they can quickly get you in trouble if you’re unaware of current employment laws. When it comes time to hire for open positions, if you don’t have an HR resource at your company, hire an outside HR staffing firm for help. They can help train anyone at your company who’s responsible for interviewing candidates and outline exactly what can be asked and, more important, the questions that can never be brought up.

(Source: Openforum)

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