Whenever you interview candidates who are applying for a job opening, you need to figure out exactly what experience, skills and capabilities they bring to the table that would benefit your organization. However, many employers are just as nervous during the interview process as the candidates, and they may end up asking questions that could open them up to potential legal issues.
As long as you focus your questions primarily on the applicant’s skills and qualifications, you should be fine. But for your reference, the following are a few types of questions you should avoid asking:
- Questions about family or gender: You are not allowed to discriminate against employees or job applicants based on their gender, their family life or a pregnancy. This includes one’s gender identity and transgender status, which has been a big topic of discussion lately across the United States.
- Questions about ethnic background or race: Again, you cannot discriminate against employees or applicants based on ethnicity or race. It is illegal to ask any questions about race or origin during an interview. You may ask if candidates are able to speak certain languages fluently, but you are not allowed to ask specifically what race or ethnicity they are.
- Questions about age: Applicants’ ages are usually obvious on their application, which often contains information such as college graduation dates or years of experience, so there’s not really a need to ask about age in the first place. But you should also never make assumptions that someone’s age precludes him or her from doing certain work. Instead, focus on knowledge of the job or demonstrated experience the person has in the field.
- Questions about criminal history: You are allowed to perform criminal background checks, but certain laws may prohibit you from asking questions about your applicant’s criminal record, along with arrests that did not lead to convictions.
- Questions about disability: You are not allowed to ask applicants questions about whether they have a disability or how their disability affects their daily life. However, you are allowed to ask them how they would perform certain functions associated with the job and if attendance would be difficult, as long as you ask these questions to all applicants—not just those with disabilities.
- Questions about religion: It is illegal to ask any questions about an applicant’s religious beliefs. However, if the job you have requires employees to work weekends, you may ask applicants about their availability, as long as you ask all applicants these questions.
The best way to avoid getting yourself into trouble with inappropriate questioning is to write down all of the questions you will ask your applicants ahead of time, and to not deviate from that list whenever possible. For more information on how to properly interview job candidates to avoid potential liability, consult a skilled labor law attorney in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Attorney Ravinder S. Nagi is Assistant Managing Attorney and Chair of the Labor & Employment Law Practice Group at BoltNagi, a widely respected and well-established business and employment law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.