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What Employers Can and Cannot Ask During an Interview

    In the realm of job interviews, employers must tread carefully to ensure they adhere to legal and ethical standards. Questions they ask can have a significant impact on the hiring process and, potentially, the organization’s reputation. To help employers navigate this complex terrain, this article outlines the dos and don’ts of interview questions based on legal and ethical guidelines.

    The Legal Framework

    Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

    Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The Act applies to employers with 15 or more employees and encompasses all aspects of employment, including interviews.

    The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

    The ADEA protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from discrimination based on age. This law applies to employers with 20 or more employees.

    The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

    The ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. Employers with 15 or more employees must adhere to this law.

    Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

    The EEOC enforces federal laws related to employment discrimination. Employers must comply with EEOC guidelines to avoid legal troubles.

    What Employers Can Ask

    1. Job-Related Questions

    Employers can and should ask questions directly related to the job. These may include inquiries about an applicant’s experience, qualifications, skills, and education, as long as they are relevant to the position in question.

    2. Availability and Work Schedule

    Employers can inquire about an applicant’s availability and work schedule, as these are essential for ensuring a successful match between the job requirements and the candidate’s commitments.

    3. Criminal Convictions (with Caution)

    Employers can ask about an applicant’s criminal history, but they should do so cautiously. The EEOC recommends considering the nature and severity of the crime, its relevance to the job, and how much time has passed since the conviction.

    4. Salary Expectations

    Employers can discuss salary expectations with candidates, as long as these discussions are conducted in a non-discriminatory manner.

    5. References

    Employers can request references and contact previous employers to verify an applicant’s work history and qualifications.

    What Employers Cannot Ask

    1. Age

    Employers cannot inquire about an applicant’s age or birthdate, as this information is protected by the ADEA.

    2. Race, Color, or National Origin

    Employers must avoid asking questions about an applicant’s race, color, or national origin, as it violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

    3. Religion

    Questions about an applicant’s religion or religious practices are off-limits to employers under Title VII.

    4. Gender and Sexual Orientation

    Employers should not ask about an applicant’s gender identity or sexual orientation, as this violates Title VII’s prohibition against sex-based discrimination.

    5. Marital and Family Status

    Employers cannot inquire about an applicant’s marital status, pregnancy, or family plans, as such questions may be considered discriminatory under Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

    6. Disabilities

    Questions about an applicant’s disabilities or medical history should be avoided. Instead, employers should focus on the candidate’s ability to perform essential job functions as required by the ADA.

    7. Race and National Origin

    Employers must not ask questions related to an applicant’s race or national origin, as this infringes on Title VII protections.

    8. Pregnancy

    Employers should not ask about an applicant’s pregnancy or potential pregnancy. This is prohibited by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Title VII.

    9. Sexual Orientation

    Inquiring about an applicant’s sexual orientation is not allowed, as it could violate Title VII.

    10. Military Status

    Questions about an applicant’s military service and discharge status should be avoided, as it may violate the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

    Protecting Applicant Privacy

    1. Social Media and Online Presence

    Employers should be cautious when reviewing an applicant’s social media profiles. While public information is generally fair game, requesting social media login credentials is invasive and should be avoided.

    2. Medical Information

    Employers must maintain the confidentiality of any medical information provided by applicants, in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and ADA regulations.

    3. Credit History

    Questions about an applicant’s credit history should be avoided unless such inquiries are relevant to the position. Some states have restrictions on using credit history in employment decisions.


    In the competitive world of recruitment, employers must navigate a complex web of legal and ethical guidelines when conducting interviews. By adhering to the legal framework established by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the ADEA, the ADA, and EEOC guidelines, employers can create a fair and equitable hiring process.

    Remember that job-related questions are generally allowed, but inquiries related to age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, marital and family status, disabilities, and other protected categories are off-limits. Protecting applicant privacy is equally important, whether through social media scrutiny, medical information handling, or credit history inquiries.

    By following these guidelines and exercising prudence in the interview process, employers can ensure compliance with the law and foster a workplace culture that values diversity and inclusivity.

    Disclaimer: This article provides general guidance and information. HR managers should consult with legal experts to ensure compliance with federal, state, and local laws when implementing these strategies.