What Not To Say: Questions You Should Never Ask A Potential Employee

As a business owner, your company's reputation is on the line with everything that you do. If you are hiring employees for the first time, there are a few things you need to know. Before you schedule the first interview, make sure that your list of questions is not only relevant, but legal. Employment law restricts some of the questions that you can ask of prospective employees, and familiarizing yourself with those guidelines can save you from that embarrassing "uh-oh" moment in the middle of the interview. Here are some tips for treading lightly around some sensitive subjects.

Family Status Concerns

As a potential employer, it is illegal for you to ask an interviewee about his or her marital status. Not only is that status a personal consideration, asking about it can also potentially lead to a disclosure of orientation, which is also against the law. You can, however, ask the potential candidate if he or she has ever worked or attended school under a different name. This question is relevant to your ability to verify work and school history.

Similarly, a candidate's family structure is not a subject that is open for discussion. You cannot ask an interviewee if he or she has children. If you are concerned about availability and reliability during work hours, you can ask him or her if there are any other commitments or responsibilities that could be a problem for specific hours or for travel demands.

Age Matters

Another thing that you should be cautious of is asking any question that could inadvertently reveal a candidate's age. You cannot legally ask a potential candidate how long he or she has been in the workforce, nor when the candidate's birthday is.

Other questions that can indirectly provide clues to an individual's age include things such as what year he or she graduated from high school or received a college degree. Instead of questions like these, focus on what is relevant to the individual's role with the company. For example, you can ask how long the person was employed in a specific field or type of job. This gives you a picture of experience without jeopardizing age or birthdate information.

Citizenship and Language Questions

Even in the case of a candidate with a thick, clearly identifiable accent, you cannot legally ask about citizenship, nationality or even the origin of the accent. No matter how obvious it may be that the individual is not native to the country, you can't ask anything about how long he or she has been here or any other status information. One thing you can—and should—ask is if the individual can legally work in the country.

Instead of inquiring directly if English is the candidate's first language, which could be considered a form of the citizenship question, you should ask your candidates about what languages they are fluent in. This is an important question to ask, particularly if the new staff members will be interacting with customers or in a communication-heavy position.

Financial and Legal Assessment

One of the things that most every business owner faces when hiring new employees is ensuring that those new hires are trustworthy. Despite your best intentions, you cannot ask a candidate about current financial troubles or even arrest records. No matter what position you are hiring for, the diplomatic approach is the legal one.

If the position involves handling money and is an integrity issue, you can request a signed authorization for a consumer credit report and criminal background check. You can legally ask if the candidate has any past convictions for charges that would directly affect the ability to do the job.

Military History

Asking about a candidate's military history is a slippery slope. A military service record can tell you more about the candidate than you could imagine, but the information you can get about past military service is limited. You cannot legally ask what type of discharge the interviewee received. Instead, ask about the education and training received in the service that could be an asset to the position.

Before you start interviewing potential candidates, you should start by talking with a corporate lawyer who can go through a potential list of interview questions with you to ensure that everything is legally acceptable. Even if the intention behind a question is innocent, asking a question that is prohibited by law could leave you facing a court battle depending on the individual. With a little bit of effort and preparation for the interview and these tips, you can go into the hiring process with confidence.