Interviews: What Should You Ask?

Federal and state laws require that questions on the job application, during the interview and during the testing process be job-related. Improper interview questions are those that single an individual out for reasons that are contrary to equal employment opportunity and anti-discrimination laws. Technically, it is not illegal to ask these questions, but if a question has discriminatory implications and employment is denied based on the applicant’s answer, you may have broken the law. The following are examples of questions to avoid when interviewing household staff along with a better alternative.


Subject: Relatives/Marital Status

Avoid: What is your marital status? What is the name of your relative/spouse/children? With whom do you reside? Do you live with your parents? How old are your children? Do you plan to have a family? How many kids do you have? What are your childcare arrangements?

Ask: What are the names of relatives already employed by the company or a competitor? Are you willing to relocate if necessary? Are you willing to travel as needed by the job? (Must be asked of all applicants.) Are you willing and able to work overtime as necessary? (Must be asked of all applicants.)

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Subject: Residence

Avoid: With whom do you reside? Do you rent or own? Do you live in town?

Ask: Inquiries about address to the extent needed to facilitate contacting the applicant are O.K. Will you have problems getting to work by 9 a.m.?


Subject: Pregnancy

Avoid: Questions relating to pregnancy and medical history concerning pregnancy are illegal. Do you plan on having more children?

Ask: Inquiries to duration of stay on a job or anticipated absences which are made to males and females alike are legal. Do you foresee any long-term absences in the future?


Subject: Physical Health

Avoid: Generalized questions which would tend to divulge handicaps or health conditions that do not relate reasonably to fitness to perform the job are illegal. Do you have any handicaps or disabilities? What caused your handicap? What is the prognosis of your handicap? Have you ever had any serious illnesses? Please complete the following medical history. Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations? What was the date of your last physical exam? How’s your family’s health? Have you ever been treated for a mental condition? Are you taking prescribed drugs? Have you ever been treated for drug or alcohol addiction? Have you ever filed a workers’ compensation claim?

Ask: Can you lift 40 lbs? Do you need any special accommodations to perform the job you’ve applied for? How many days did you miss from work (or school) in the past year? The questions have to relate to the job. Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodations?


Subject: Family

Avoid: Questions concerning spouse, or spouse’s employment, salary, childcare, arrangements or dependents are illegal. How will your husband feel about the amount of time you will be traveling if you get this job? What kind of childcare arrangements have you made?

Ask: You may ask whether an applicant can meet specified work schedules or has activities or commitments that may prevent him or her from meeting attendance requirements. Is there any reason why you can’t be on the job at 7:30 am? This job requires that you work overtime on occasion. Would you be able and willing to work overtime as necessary?


Subject: Name

Avoid: Any inquiries about an individual’s name that would divulge marital status, lineage, ancestry, national origin or descent are illegal. If your name has been legally changed, what was your former name?

Ask: Whether an applicant has worked for the company or a competitor under any other name and if so, what name was used. Name under which applicant is known to references if different from present name. By what name do your references know you? Have you ever been convicted of a crime under another name?


Subject: Sex

Avoid: Any inquiry that relates to sex is illegal. Do you wish to be addressed as Mr., Mrs., Miss or Ms.? Do you have the capacity to reproduce? What are your plans to have children in the future?

Ask: None


Subject: Photographs

Avoid: Requests that an applicant submit a photo at any time prior to hiring is illegal.

Ask: Photos may be requested after hiring for identification purposes.


Subject: Age

Avoid: Any question that tends to identify applicants age 40 or older are illegal. How old are you? When did you graduate from college? What is your birthday? Requests for birth certificate or record are also illegal.

Ask: Are you 18 years of age? If hired, can you furnish proof of age?


Subject: Education

Avoid: Any question asking specifically the nationality, racial or religious affiliation of a school.

Ask: All questions related to academic, vocational or professional education of an applicant, including the names of the schools attended, degrees/diplomas received, and dates of graduation and courses of study are legal. What is the highest grade you have completed?


Subject: Citizenship

Avoid: Asking whether an applicant is a citizen or requiring a birth certificate, naturalization or baptismal certificate is illegal. Any inquiry into citizenship that would tend to divulge an applicant’s lineage, descent, etc. are illegal. Are you a citizen of the US? Are your parents or spouse citizens of the US? On what dates did you, your parents or your spouse acquire US Citizenship? Are you, your parents or your spouse naturalized or native-born US citizens? What is your native tongue?

Ask: Questioning whether an applicant is prevented from lawfully being employed in this country because of visa or immigration requirements is illegal. It is legal to ask an applicant to provide proof of citizenship (passport), visa and alien registration number after hiring. If you are not a US citizen, do you have the legal right to remain permanently in the US? What is your visa status (if no to the previous question)? Are you able to provide proof of employment eligibility upon hire? Are you authorized to work in the United States? What languages do you read, speak or write fluently? (Ability must be relevant to performance of the job).


Subject: National Origin/Ancestry

Avoid: What is your nationality? How did you acquire the ability to speak, read or write a foreign language? How did you acquire familiarity with a foreign country? What language is spoken in your home? What is your mother tongue?

Ask: What languages do you speak, read or write fluently? This is only legal when the inquiry is based on a job requirement.

Subject: Race or Color

Avoid: Any question that directly or indirectly relates to a race or color is illegal. What is your race? What is your complexion?

Ask: None


Subject: Religion

Avoid: Any question that directly or indirectly relates to a religion is illegal. What religious holidays do you observe? What is your religious affiliation?

Ask: Can you work on Saturdays? (Only if it is relevant to the job.)


Subject: Organizations

Avoid: To what organizations, clubs, societies and lodges do you belong?

Ask: To what professional organizations do you belong which you consider relevant to your ability to perform this work? (Exclude those names that indicate the race, religious creed, color, national origin or ancestry of its members. These inquiries must only relate to the applicant’s professional qualifications.)


Subject: Military

Avoid: It is illegal to ask the type or condition of military discharge or an applicant’s experience in other than U.S. armed forces. A request for discharge papers is illegal. Were you honorably discharged? In what branch of the Armed Forces did you serve?

Ask: Inquiries concerning education, training or work experience in the armed forces of the United States are legal. What type of training or education did you receive in the military?


Subject: Height & Weight

Avoid: Any inquiries not based on actual job requirements. How tall are you? How much do you weigh? What color are your eyes/hair?

Ask: Inquiries about the ability to perform a certain job are legal. Being of a certain weight or height will not be considered a job requirement unless the employer can show that no employee with the ineligible height and weight could do the work. Are you able to lift a 50-pound weight that is an essential function required by the job?


Subject: Arrests & Convictions

Avoid: All inquiries relating to arrests are illegal. Have you ever been arrested? (Arrests are not the same as convictions. An innocent person can be arrested.)

Ask: Legal inquiries about convictions are: Have you ever been convicted of any crime? If so, when, where and what was the disposition of the case? Have you ever been convicted under criminal law within the past five years (excluding minor traffic violations)? It is permissible to inquire about convictions for acts of dishonesty or breach of trust. These relate to fitness to perform the particular job being applied for.

This document is provided for informational purposes only. The information provided herein is not intended to be exhaustive, nor should it be construed as advice regarding coverage.