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by Deborah Millhouse, President, CEO Inc.

When interviewing a prospective employee, there are certain areas that you are prohibited by law from asking about. Never ask an employee about the following areas:

– Family or marital status
– Disabilities
– National origin or birthplace
– Racial background or skin color
– Sex, gender or sexual orientation
– Religious beliefs or lack of them
– Age

The first three topics on the list are the ones most commonly broached in an interview setting.

Family Situation/Marital Status

Asking how long someone has been married or what grade their kids are in seems like harmless chit-chat but actually constitutes discrimination. It may imply that your company values married men above single men, or women without children over working mothers. Instead, ask what your candidate’s experience is with a particular age group. Ask what his or her long-term career goals are, and indeed what their long-term personal goals are. Very often those goals will include whether or not the candidate plans to get married, to have children, or to move.


Never ask your candidate whether or not they take drugs. Drug abuse is illegal and most companies have a drug policy in place, but a potential employee may misinterpret your question as being one that relates to the use of prescription medication. However, you can ask them if they use illegal drugs.

National Origin or Birthplace

This is another question that relates to wording. You are forbidden to ask a person’s birthplace or their national origin and whether or not they are a citizen of the United States. Asking these questions implies a bias against aliens – legal or illegal – and first-generation Americans. Instead, inquire as to whether your candidate is legally licensed to work in the United States.

Discrimination lawsuits abound from employer mistakes during the interview process, so remember to keep your questions within the scope of what is acceptable.

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