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Illegal to ask?

Posted by Pattie Hunt Sinacole  June 25, 2012 07:52 AM

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Q: I was recently interviewed by a small technology company in the Boston area. I am pretty sure that they asked me some illegal interview questions. Some of the questions I was asked were what religious holidays did I need off, if I was a US citizen and if I planned to have a family in the near future. Are these legal? I didnít get a job offer but I also decided I didnít want to work at this company after meeting some of the people there.


A: Thanks for sharing your experience. You have good instincts. All of the questions that you mention are illegal and should not be asked during the interview process.

Small businesses sometimes struggle with hiring and retaining talent. Often the leaders of these businesses have not been trained on how to hire talent effectively. Hiring talent effectively includes asking appropriate, job-related and legal questions during the interview process.

Questions about religion should be avoided for the most part. If a hiring manager is concerned about scheduling and time off issues, questions about the scheduling and/or anticipated time off requests are permissible. For example, it is acceptable to ask: ďAre you able to work Saturdays in December since that is our busiest month?Ē Or, ďDo you have any planned time off between now and the end of the year?Ē The focus should be on the business, productivity issues and scheduling challenges not religious holidays.

Candidates should not be asked about US citizenship unless it is a requirement of the job. Some government jobs (or government sub-contractor jobs) require US citizenship. Most jobs donít require US citizenship though. Instead, an interviewer can ask whether you can work legally in the US or not. There are many candidates who can work legally in the US but may not be US citizens. Companies need to make sure that candidates are able to work in the US legally but they should not demonstrate a preference one way or another.

The question about whether you are planning to have a family is clearly illegal (whether asked of a man or a woman). Hiring managers can ask about your ability to work overtime, additional hours, weekends, etc. It is also permissible to ask about your ability to travel.

Sometimes companies donít realize that their hiring managers are representing the company so poorly and unprofessionally. It sounds like you would not have been happy there even if you had been offered a job.


This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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Meet the Jobs Docs

Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.

Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.

Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.

Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.

Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.

Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.

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