Potentially Unlawful Inquiries During an Interview

Interviewers need to be aware of the following topics because of the potential legal implications.   Even though interviewers are acting in good faith and their questions during an interview appear harmless, lawsuits involving allegations of discrimination and unequal treatment have resulted when inquiries have focused on certain topics. 

Inquiries into some topics should never be made while inquires into other topics should only be made when a direct relationship between the topic and corresponding duties of the job position exists     

Address:  Specific inquiry into foreign addresses, which would indicate national origin.

AgeAge, date of birth or any other inquiries which would require candidates to disclose their age.

AncestryCandidate’s nationality, lineage, ancestry, national origin, descent or parentage; length of residency in the United States; ancestry of immediate family or spouse's family; and questions regarding how the candidate acquired the ability to read, write or speak a foreign language.

Birth PlaceBirth place of candidate, candidate’s parents, spouse, or other relatives, or any other inquiry into national origin.

Children or Dependents:  Any inquiries regarding the number, age, or child care arrangement for the candidate's children or other dependents. Such questions could be regarded as discriminatory against single parents.

CitizenshipInquiries regarding country or citizenship other than the United States; inquiries to naturalized citizens regarding citizenship status of parents or spouse; or date of acquisition of U.S. citizenship.

Convictions, Arrests and Court RecordsAny inquiries regarding arrests; questions regarding conviction and court records which are not substantially related to the function and responsibilities of the position.

DisabilitiesInquiries regarding an applicant's disability.  If a candidate volunteers this information during the course of the interview, it can be considered in relation to the candidate’s ability to perform the essential functions of the position.  If a candidate has an obvious disability that causes the supervisor concern about whether that person could perform the essential functions of the job, the supervisor should point out the essential functions listed on the position description and ask, "Is there any reason you don’t believe you could perform all the essential functions of this position?"  However, if this question is asked of one candidate, it must be asked of all candidates, not just those with obvious disabilities.

EducationAny inquiry specifically asking the nationality, racial or religious affiliation of a school.

Financial Status, Credit Record, or Car Ownership:  These questions are unrelated to the applicant’s ability to perform the requirements of the position and tend to discriminate against certain groups.  Financial status inquiries regarding past ownership, bankruptcy or garnishment of wages.

Graduation Dates:  Any inquiries concerning the dates that an applicant graduated from high school or college, which might indicate an applicant’s age.

Health IssuesAny inquiries related to a candidate’s health, especially in regard to whether a candidate has AIDS or is HIV positive.

Marital Status:  Any inquiry regarding whether the applicant is married, single, widowed, separated or engaged to be married may imply discrimination against women because of common societal assumptions that women often leave jobs when they get married or have children. In addition, societal assumptions regarding married and single, divorced, widowed or separated people may contribute to an atmosphere of perceived discrimination.  Discrimination on the basis of marital status is illegal under Oregon Law and Board Rule.

Military Discharge:  Any inquiry regarding the nature of a person’s discharge.

Military Service:  Inquiries into the dates that a candidate either joined or left military service, which could be used to determine an applicant’s age.  Questions should not be asked about the nature of the person’s military discharge or whether they ever served in another country’s armed services.

NameInquiries about an applicant’s name which would indicate the candidate’s lineage, ancestry, national origin, descent or marital status.

Opposite Sex:  Any inquiries regarding how an applicant would feel about working or traveling with members of the opposite sex may be considered discriminatory because answers are not always considered equally from men and women.

Organization:  Inquiries regarding organizations which would indicate by their character or name the race, religion, color or ancestry of the applicant.

Photographs:  No photographs may be requested or required prior to selection.

Political IssuesAny questions regarding political party affiliation or opinions on political issues.

Pregnancy:  Any inquiries regarding pregnancy or potential pregnancy of an applicant.

Race or Color:  Any inquiries regarding the candidate’s race, the racial group with which the applicant may identify, or regarding other physical features which may be directly or indirectly indicative of race or color.

Relatives:  To the extent that an inquiry into a spouse’s name indicates marital status, an inquiry of this type may be considered illegal.  Inquiries regarding a spouse’s marital status may indicate to some applicants a reluctance to hire a woman if her husband already has a substantial income or if there is concern that her employment would disrupt her husband’s career.  Names or addresses of any relatives certainly should not be requested.

Religion:  A candidate’s religious denomination or affiliation, church, parish, pastor, or religious holidays observed should not be discussed during an interview.  The relationship of a person’s religious beliefs to their professional employment is an improper area of inquiry until after the selection is completed.  At that time, any potential need for accommodation to a person’s religious beliefs or practices may be discussed. 

Though candidates may not be told that employees are required to work on religious holidays, they may be asked if they are available to work on specific days (for example, Saturdays or Sundays), but it must be asked of every candidate and should not be phrased in the context of religious observances.  However, a candidate’s religious beliefs must be accommodated unless such accommodation creates undue hardship to the university or department.

Union Membership:  Any questions regarding current or past union membership or activities should be avoided.

Workers Compensation:  Inquiries into an applicant’s worker compensation history are inappropriate.  An employer may not discriminate against an applicant because that applicant has utilized the workers’ compensation system, nor may an employer base a hiring decision on the likelihood that an applicant may cause increased workers’ compensation costs in the future.