HR Question: Questions to Avoid During an Interview

Question: What questions should an employer avoid asking during the recruiting and interview process?

Answer: You should avoid questions that are not job-related or that cause an applicant to tell you about their inclusion in a protected class. These would include questions about race, national origin, citizenship status, religious affiliation, disabilities, pregnancy, sexual orientation or gender identity, past illnesses (including use of sick leave or workers’ comp claims), age, genetic information, or military service. You should also avoid asking about things that might be protected by state law (e.g., marital status and political affiliation).

Asking these sorts of questions could result in rejected candidates claiming that the decision not to hire was based on their inclusion in these protected classes rather than job-related considerations. We recommend looking at your state’s protected class list to be sure you don’t run afoul of it.

During an interview, it is advisable to present the candidate with a copy of the job description that lists all essential job functions, including any physical requirements necessary to perform the job, and simply asking the candidate if they are able to perform the job duties listed. For example, if the position requires someone to lift 25 pounds repeatedly throughout the day, you should ask the applicant whether they can lift 25 pounds repeatedly throughout the day. You should not ask whether they have back pain or any other physical issues that might prevent them from lifting 25 pounds or if they’d filed a workers’ comp claim when doing manual labor in the past. If you need someone to work Sunday mornings, you should ask the applicant if they can work Sunday mornings. You should not ask if they attend church or have other commitments that would prevent them from working Sunday mornings.

If a candidate proactively acknowledges a disability or medical condition, we recommend that you refrain from addressing this candidate’s mention of it directly. Instead, confirm that the candidate can perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation. You’ll want to be certain that you are asking this question consistently of all candidates, and not just those who have disclosed a past medical condition or those you suspect may not be able to perform the essential functions of the position. It’s also important not to make assumptions about a candidate’s ability to perform their job based on their having disclosed that they have a disability or other health condition.

Finally, unless a candidate has an obvious disability or has voluntarily disclosed that they have a disability, we would not recommend asking applicants if they would need accommodation to perform job functions as it would have the effect of creating a pre-employment disability inquiry, which is prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

You can also download UST’s Interviewing 101 as a guide for preparing to interview candidates and hiring the right people for your nonprofit. This Q&A was provided by Mineral, powering the UST HR Workplace. Have HR questions? Sign your nonprofit up for a FREE 60-day trial here. As a UST member, simply log into your Mineralportal to access live HR certified consultants, 300+ on-demand training courses, an extensive compliance library, and more.

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03/18/22 8:23 AM

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UST maintains a secure site. This means that information we obtain from you in the process of enrolling is protected and cannot be viewed by others. Information about your agency is provided to our various service providers once you enroll in UST for the purpose of providing you with the best possible service. Your information will never be sold or rented to other entities that are not affiliated with UST. Agencies that are actively enrolled in UST are listed for review by other agencies, UST’s sponsors and potential participants, but no information specific to your agency can be reviewed by anyone not affiliated with UST and not otherwise engaged in providing services to you except as required by law or valid legal process.

Your use of this site and the provision of basic information constitute your consent for UST to use the information supplied.

UST may collect generic information about overall website traffic, and use other analytical information and tools to help us improve our website and provide the best possible information and service. As you browse UST’s website, cookies may also be placed on your computer so that we can better understand what information our visitors are most interested in, and to help direct you to other relevant information. These cookies do not collect personal information such as your name, email, postal address or phone number. To opt out of some of these cookies, click here. If you are a Twitter user, and prefer not to have Twitter ad content tailored to you, learn more here.

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