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Keep things legal during job interviews with prospective hires

It can be tricky these days to get through a job interview without making mistakes that can get your business in trouble. That's why it's important for small business owners to have a clear understanding of what you can and cannot ask a prospective new hire in a job interview.

Here are some tips you can use to make sure you keep the hiring process legal and avoid charges of discrimination:

1. Have a two-person interview team

While not essential, this can favor you later if there are allegations that you said or did something that crossed a legal line. It always helps to have a witness in the room that can testify later. Your interview partner doesn't have to participate beyond greeting the applicants. He or she can simply take notes and be there for backup.

2. Have a set of interview questions

You want to keep your questions relevant to the job functions you're interviewing people about. However, it's very easy to get off-track -- and into trouble -- when you don't have a set of questions in front of you. Small talk may put applicants (and interviewers) at ease, but it can also accidentally elicit information you shouldn't be asking right then.

3. Keep in mind these restrictions

Here are some key reminders about what kinds of questions can lead to charges of bias:

  • Don't ask about clubs, church membership, political party affiliation or other organizations.
  • Don't ask about a candidate's age (except to mention when a candidate has to be over 18 or 21 for a position if there might be doubt).
  • You can ask about current use but not about someone's past drug addiction or alcoholism.
  • You can ask if a candidate can provide proof upon hire of the right to work in the United States but not about their national origin or immigration status.
  • When a disability is obvious, you can ask reasonable questions that pertain to an ability to do an essential job function. Do not ask about hidden disabilities.
  • Do not discuss race, color, religion or gender.
  • It's generally safest to stay away from questions about marital and family status (like whether or not a female applicant has children or wants children).

Often, it helps to have legal advice when you have questions about hiring practices. Our firm can help small business owners with numerous issues they may face.

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