When you’re conducting interview after interview, it can be easy to stick to the old tried and tested measures.
But what happens when you ask questions which don’t relate to the job? To avoid tripping up over potential legal issues, such as discrimination in your recruitment process, we’ve listed five questions below which you should avoid asking
1. Are you from the UK/Is English your first language?
By law, employers must check that applicants are eligible to work within the UK. However, any other questions relating to race, religion or native language should be avoided as they could raise questions of discrimination.
There may be a requirement for staff to speak fluently in order to operate effectively, but there is absolutely no obligation in most cases for this to be a candidate’s mother tongue.
What you could ask: ‘What languages do you fluently write or speak?’
2. Are you married?
Any questions about marital status, children and future family plans should not be asked at an interview.
Not only are these questions of a personal and potentially discriminatory nature, this particular line of questioning has been used in the past to determine a person’s sexual orientation – something which has no bearing on a candidate’s ability to do the job.
What you could ask: ‘Do you have any current commitments which may affect your ability to do this job, or which may impact your attendance?’
3. How old are you?
Although this seems like quite an innocent question on the surface, there are very few reasons you may need to ask a candidate for their age.
Of course, they may need to be over 18 years of age to sell certain products (alcohol, for example). However, beyond confirming they are over this age, an employer should avoid asking for specific details.
Any other questions relating to age could inform your decision and could, therefore, be classed as discrimination. Even other, slightly more ‘subtle’ attempts to ask the same question, such as asking for a graduation date or potential retirement plans, are similarly controversial.
What you could ask: ‘Are you over 18?’
4. How many sickness days did you take in your last period of employment?
You should avoid asking a candidate about any health or disability issues before a position has been offered. Questions about previous sickness absence fall into this category.
Asking questions around this subject to establish whether an applicant needs an assessment to determine their suitability for the job, or to determine whether adjustments need to be made in order to adequately accommodate a candidate’s needs are, however, completely acceptable.
Once a position has been offered, enquiries can be made regarding health, but only if these relate to a candidate’s ability to carry out the role effectively. For more information, you can refer to the Equality Act (2010).
What you could ask: ‘Do you have any specific requirements in order to perform this job effectively?’
5. Do you have any previous criminal convictions?
There is no obligation for a candidate to disclose criminal convictions if the sentence has already been spent. For this reason, an employer should not refuse employment to an individual because of a previous crime, unless, of course, it relates to the role in question (for example, teacher, childminder, a senior banking or financial role).
It is worth bearing in mind that criminal records checks are carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) for certain roles (e.g. working with children, healthcare etc.), but this should be undertaken by employers before the interview stage. These were formerly known as CRB checks.
What you could ask: ‘Do you know of any reasons why you may not legally be able to take this position?’
Other questions you can’t ask
‘What religion are you?’, ‘What are your sexual preferences?’, ‘Are you a trade union member?’
This is by no means a definitive list. There are a number of other questions which may be considered taboo or outdated, and the same themes could be asked in a variety of ways.
If in doubt, remember: any question relating to a candidate’s personal life should be approached with caution. Similarly, age or ethnicity, unless directly related to the role in some way, should be avoided.
However, for certain jobs, some of these factors may directly impact a candidate’s performance. If they are specific to the role in question, it may not be controversial to ask them. To learn more, information is available surrounding Occupational Requirements.
* Please note, the information outlined above is intended for general guidance purposes only, and is subject to change.
Need more advice on what you can and can’t ask? Visit the ACAS website for more information.Questions you should avoid asking at an interview by Michael Cheary