Employers in California need a stable pipeline of qualified candidates to fill available jobs. Vacant positions lead to overworked employees and lower productivity. Hiring managers are often under pressure to avoid these problems by quickening the interview process.

However, failing to follow proper interviewing procedures can leave your company vulnerable to legal challenges.

Therefore, it is critical for hiring managers to know how to ethically and legally interview job candidates in California.

The most common problems with interview questions include inquiries about a candidate’s age, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. Additionally, questions regarding a candidate’s health, disability, family, substance abuse, or arrest history also problematic for employers.

The best way to avoid risky interviews is to make sure the questions you ask your candidate are relevant to the available position.

The goal of the interview is to evaluate whether the applicant can perform essential job functions. Interview questions that are personal in nature can suggest bias and lead to discrimination complaints.

Ethical and Legal Interview Questions

Here are some specific questions to avoid, as well as potential alternatives:

Age: Do not ask an applicant’s age. You can ask the candidate “If you are hired, can you produce proof that you are at least 18 years of age?”

Race/Ethnicity: Questions about a person’s race, cultural heritage, and country of origin are illegal. However, you can ask “If you are hired, can you provide proof of your legal authorization to work in the United States?

You can only ask a candidate about their language fluency if it is relevant to performing the job.

Religion: You cannot ask about a candidate’s religious affiliations or practices. If the job requires weekend availability, you can ask the candidate if they can work on Saturday or Sunday.

Gender/Sexual Orientation: It is illegal to ask a candidate about their marital status, pregnancy, children, child care arrangements, or sexual orientation. You can ask if a candidate has ever worked under a different name.

You can also ask a candidate if they can meet the scheduling requirements of the position or functional aspects of the job.

Drug/Criminal History: You cannot ask a candidate “Have you ever been addicted to illegal drugs?” or “Have you ever had an alcohol problem?” However, you can ask “Do you currently use illegal drugs?” This is because addiction is considered a disability protected under the Americans with Disability Act, but current and/or casual use is not.

Additionally, you cannot ask a candidate if they have ever been arrested. You can ask them if they have been convicted of a crime.

What are the Consequences of Asking Unethical and Illegal Interview Questions in California?

The consequences of asking unethical and illegal interview questions are significant. According to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), remedies for employment discrimination include:

  • Mandating the employer to hire the candidate
  • Awarding the candidate damages for emotional distress
  • Issuing of punitive damages to candidate
  • Recovery of attorney fees and legal costs

Additionally, DFEH can require that an employer revise their hiring policies and implement staff training to eliminate bias and discrimination.

A background screening service can help ensure your company has implemented sound hiring practices that facilitate ethical and legal candidate interviews.

Background screening services include criminal background checks, drug screening programs, and employment eligibility verification, among others.

Partnering with a reputable background screening service helps your business build a dependable workforce and prevent legal challenges.

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