Labor legalities – The Dos and Don’ts of Employment Law

You shake hands with an applicant and ease into the interview. “So, married? Kids? Great. My son’s ten. How Old’s yours?” Just small talk, right? Not if you ask the federal government. It’s up to you to know where they draw that legal line in the sand. Knowing what you can and can’t ask in a job interview is in many ways the epicenter of employment law. It’s pretty simple, actually. There are seven factors that cannot affect your hiring decisions: age, sex, race, religion, physical handicap, nationality, or sexual orientation. Juries routinely award lost wages and punitive damages to victims of any type of discrimination. You may not have a discriminating bone in your body, but phrase a question wrong or make an improper comment, and you may wind up forced into writing a check with lots of zeroes.

Personal History, Ethnicity, and Preferences


■ What is your educational background?

■ Do you speak any foreign languages [only if the job requires it]?

■ What is your address?

■ What is your contact information?

■ How long have you lived in this city?

■ Are you a citizen of this country?

■ Have you ever been convicted of a felony [if duties include handling money or confidential info, you may ask related questions]

Don’t Ask:

■ Are you a native-born or naturalized citizen?

■ When were you (or any family members) granted citizenship?

■ Where did you grow up?

■ What country do you come from?

■ What is your ancestry?

■ What is your native language?

■ How long have you lived in this country?

■ Have you ever legally or otherwise changed your name?

■ What’s your maiden name? [Exception: if applicant’s name is different on education or employment records.]

■ What clubs, associations, or organizations do you belong to?

■ Do you consider yourself a feminist?



■ Do you have a driver’s license [only for driving-related jobs]?

■ Are you of legal age [only for jobs handling tobacco, alcohol, or other restricted substances]?

■ If you’re younger than eighteen or older than sixty-five, what is your age?

Don’t Ask:

■ How old are you?

■ When’s your birthday?

■ When did you graduate from high school?



■ Is there any reason you cannot work the hours of the position as explained to you [only if asked of all applicants]?

■ Is there any reason that you couldn’t travel for work?

Don’t Ask:

■ Are you married?

■ Are you divorced, separated, widowed?

■ should I call you Miss, Mrs., or Ms.?

■ Do you have a live-in romantic relationship?

Work History and Requirements


■ What experiences qualify you for this job?

■ Do you have the required certification (or licensure) for this job?

■ Can you provide documents proving that you can legally work in this country?

■ Is any of your employment history under a different name?

■ Do you belong to any organizations related to this field?

■ Are you willing to travel? ■ Are you available for overtime?

Don’t Ask:

■ Have you ever filed a workers compensation claim?

■ Have you ever had a work-related injury?

Last word

That goes for qualifications you list on job notices, advertisements, and other recruitment efforts. It’s easier to avoid the minefield completely than to tiptoe your way through it. Remember, what you write during a job interview can be just as self-incriminating as what you say. Don’t take any notes about the job-seeker’s age, race, appearance, health issues, or other such observations. If he or she offers such information, don’t jot it down or even respond to it. Sure, it all sounds a bit paranoid. But this is exactly the kind of stuff that subpoenas root out and use against you.

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