You’re preparing to interview candidates and want to dig deep to hire the best. You might want to ask personal questions that will make or break your decision on who to hire.

Here’s the thing. As an employer you should only ask appropriate questions (legal) at interview, not inappropriate questions (potentially illegal or discriminatory). You can’t legally “refuse or omit to employ” a potential candidate based on certain grounds. If you do, candidates could take action.

Having said that, when factors like age, sex or family circumstances relate to a position you’ll need to ask about them. It’s just a matter of how.

As expert recruiters, we know that couching questions the right way protects your company’s brand and keeps you out of hot water.

So what questions are off-limits? Which should you avoid at all cost? How do you couch certain questions?

Off-limit questions

Do you have mental health issues?

Do you have any disability?

How much time did you take off last year as sick leave?

Do you regularly take medication for issues like depression or anxiety?

Are you pregnant?

Do you have children?

Are you intending to have children?

Do you pick up your kids after school?

Do you have family or carer responsibilities?

Are you a single dad (or mum)?

How old are you?

Are you a senior citizen?

What is your marital status?

What does your partner do?

What is your religion?

What is your sexual orientation?

What are your political views?

What is your ethnic background?

What is your socio-economic background?

Do you drink more than socially?

Do you take recreational drugs?

Have you ever been arrested and, if so, for what?

Do you have a criminal record?

Are you currently working?

Have you ever been fired from a job?

Have you ever made a compensation claim for a work injury?

Are you on any kind of benefit?

When it’s acceptable to ask candidates for certain information and how best to do it

Direct questions relating to children

Do you have children? Are you intending to have children? Do you pick up your kids after school? Do you have family or carer responsibilities?

If the position requires the employee to work set hours for operational reasons—say shift work or roster work—you can enquire about availability. In this case you might ask something like:

“Are you available to work shift work or roster work?”

“This [call-centre] position operates until 8pm each weeknight? Are you able to work these hours?”

Direct questions relating to age

How old are you? Are you a senior citizen?

If the position requires a candidate to have a driver’s license to operate a vehicle or be old enough to work in a licensed premise, you’ll need to know age before hiring them. In this case you might ask something like:

“If we make you an offer of employment, you’ll have to prove you have a current license to operate a forklift. Is that OK with you?”

Direct questions relating to work status

Are you currently working? Have you ever been fired from a job?

These direct questions are illegal. Employers can’t discriminate against a candidate because they’re on a benefit or don’t have a job. In this case you might ask something like:

“We’re keen to get the best candidate on board right away. When are you able to start?”

Direct questions relating to injuries, illness, health conditions

Do you have mental health issues? Do you have a disability? How much time did you take off last year as sick leave? Do you regularly take medication for issues like depression or anxiety? Are you on any kind of benefit?

If the position requires a candidate to have certain physical or mental abilities to perform the inherent requirements of the role, you’ll want to know this. In this case you might ask something like:

“Do you have any conditions or issues that would prevent you from [doing xx or yy] which are essential role requirements?”

“Is there any reason you might not be able to perform the duties this role requires?”

Final tip

If in doubt about a question you’d like to ask during an interview, check first with an expert, such as:

  • your Human Resources department (if you have one)
  • a professional recruiter (if you’re recruiting through one)
  • a lawyer who specialises in employment.

Its’s better to be safe than sorry.

[Note: This article does not constitute legal advice.]

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