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8 Major Legal Issues Untrained Interviewers Cause

What is one major legal issue that an untrained interviewer can cause?

To help you avoid causing legal issues with your interviewing process, we asked hiring managers and legal professionals this question for their best insights. From asking about pregnancy status to ice-breaker questions that are too personal there are several legal issues that could come up when you allow an untrained interviewer to conduct job interviews.

Here are eight scenarios that untrained interviews can lead to that may cause legal issues for your company:

  • Asking About Pregnancy Status

  • Age Discrimination Through Implicit Bias

  • Asking About Relationship Status

  • Discrimination Against Religious or Political Beliefs

  • Statements or Questions that May Lead to Defamation

  • Asking About Children and Marriage

  • Asking About Health Related Issues

  • Asking Ice-Breaker Questions that are too Personal

Asking About Pregnancy Status

For some reason I have had several cases in the last few years where a male interviewer has asked a female interviewee questions about her pregnancy status. That question is unlawful under Title VII to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Worse still those same managers also went further, suggesting that the female interviewee might not have time to do the job. Also unlawful. You should train your interviewers to avoid this topic, or develop the skills necessary to ask lawful questions to obtain the same information.

Robert Reder, Blythe Grace PLLC

Age Discrimination Through Implicit Bias

There are two areas the untrained interviewer may be unaware of two things: implicit bias and age discrimination, even though these may be unintentional. While everyone is programmed to seek out commonalities and to gravitate toward people similar to us, a trained interviewer will have a higher awareness of the existence of implicit bias and, therefore, deliberately strive to rise above the bias and make more objective decisions. An untrained interviewer lacks this awareness, and their decisions, assumptions, and perspective may be clouded by bias, the outcome of which can have legal implications. Age discrimination can easily result from a lack of awareness of implicit bias. For example, casually asking a candidate aged 40 years and above which year they graduated college and then hiring a younger candidate can easily be construed as age discrimination despite it not being your intention. Training on bias is an important prerequisite in minimizing costly legal issues.

Joe Coletta, 180 Engineering

Asking About Relationship Status

“Are you married?” That’s the wrong kind of question to ask during an interview. Even if it’s innocently asked as a way to find out more about the candidate's life outside of work, it’s an illegal question and it could land the interviewer in hot water. It’s a violation of both state and federal law to inquire about a candidate’s marital status. In the eyes of the law, it’s the same as asking about a candidate’s ethnic original or sexual orientation. Don’t ask an inappropriate question. Don’t ask a question for which the candidate can justly reply, “I prefer not to answer.” It can lead to awkwardness – but above all, it’s illegal.

Alan Ahdoot, Adamson Ahdoot Law

Discrimination Against Religious or Political Beliefs

Discrimination is one of the most serious legal issues that untrained interviewers can cause. An interviewer who doesn't take the time to learn about the laws around employment or hiring practices could easily discriminate against a candidate, whether intentionally or not. For example, if an interviewer asks a candidate about their religious beliefs, political beliefs, sexual orientation or personal questions that are not related to job performance, they could be guilty of violating anti-discrimination laws and resulting in serious legal repercussions for the company. All states have laws against discrimination and employers must take the time to educate themselves on these laws before hiring anyone.

Shaun Connell, Writing Tips Institute

Statements or Questions that May Lead to Defamation

One major legal issue that an untrained interview can cause is the possibility of defamation. Defamation is when you make false statements to someone about them, which then damages their reputation. If you say something that is untrue about another person in a way that it causes them harm, you can be sued for defamation. A "trained" interviewer will know not to ask questions that could potentially defame the interviewee, or lead them to make statements that could be taken out of context and used against them.

Amer Hasovic, Love & Lavender

Asking About Children and Marriage

It's important to have individuals who are trained in conducting interviews. The interview process can be a daunting one however; it's important to invest the time to ensure that anyone conducting interviews on behalf of the company is trained. Having an untrained interviewer can create legal issues. For example, if an interviewer asks a candidate, how many children do you have or are you married? Those questions are illegal to ask a prospective candidate during the interview process. If the candidate can prove that they did not get the job because they had children and were divorced, that would create major legal issues.

Tawanda Johnson, Sporting Smiles

Asking About Health Related Issues

An untrained interviewer can fall into a deadly trap of asking questions that may be perfectly legal when asked properly, but can become illegal if phrased or timed incorrectly. There are a lot of gray areas when it comes to job interviewing. You can ask personal questions as it relates to a person’s capability of performing a job. If it’s a laborious job, you can ask general questions about that person’s ability to be on their feet all day or lift heavy objects. But you can’t ask specific health-related questions when interviewing a candidate. If someone is entering the financial space, you can ask that candidate about their financial situation and history. It’s not acceptable if you’re hiring someone for a completely different kind of job. If you’re tasked with interviewing candidates, you must remain up-to-date on the do’s and don’ts of how to conduct an interview. You’ll need to understand that there is a lot of nuance to the process.

Nick Oberheiden, Oberheiden

Asking Ice-Breaker Questions that are too Personal

It is critical that the interviewer ask questions that are limited to fitness to perform essential job functions. Untrained interviewers too often get into trouble when they ask “ice breaker” types of questions when trying to establish a personal connection. CareerBuilder found that 20% of hiring managers reported asking questions that may have violated the law. While the question may be asked innocently, a candidate may find it offensive and discriminatory.

Questions like “where are you from?”, “tell me about your family?” or “what churches have you tried in the area?” can be highly offensive to a candidate because they set up an opportunity to discriminate based on national origin, marital status, or religion. When preparing to interview, start with the job description and then formulate written questions. Run the questions by someone trained or experienced in the legal requirements. We recommend asking the same questions to all candidates and taking notes on the answers.

Derek Colvin, Waldrop & Colvin