June 2012 Desert Medical Careers, Inc. Blog

What you can ask a perspective employee in an interview?

After spending the last decade and a half assisting clients with their staffing needs one question never seems to go away, Steve, what am I allowed to ask a prospective employee about in an interview? This is a simple enough question yet through the years the answer has become quite complicated. One seemingly innocent question could spell big trouble for any employer to the tune of thousands and yes even millions of dollars in legal costs & penalties.

Without giving a lecture on all of the various Federal and State laws passed throughout the years I wish to provide a general guideline to assist you, our clients, with this difficult issue. However I cannot completely avoid discussing the- mother-of-all-federal laws in regard to hiring and that is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended 1991, for this law is upon which all state laws typically follow and it is the 1991 amended form of Title VII which opened the flood doors to legal damages. In short Title VII and the accompanying State laws which followed made it clear that it would be illegal in many cases to discriminate based on the following: Race, National Origin, Color, Religion, Sex, Age, Disability, Marital Status/Child Care, Pregnancy, Military Service, and in some states Obesity. After reading that its no wonder I get asked this question at least once a week or more.

So what is an office administrator, manager, or supervisor to do? In an effort to be part of the solution here is a somewhat brief list of things you MAY ask and things you MAY NOT ask in an interview based on the big no-nos given in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  (The following can also be found on HR Pro.Com)


Questions regarding an applicants race are unacceptable.

You MAY Not ask: What clubs or organizations do you belong to? (If they belong to a group which indicates their race, it could cause legal liability.)

You MAY ask: What professional or trade groups do you belong related to your ability to perform this job?

National Origin

Questions regarding an applicants national origin are unacceptable.

You MAY NOT ask: Are you U.S. citizen.

You MAY ask: Are you lawfully employable in the United States?


Questions regarding an applicants complexion or color of skin, hair or eyes are unacceptable.


Questions regarding an applicants religion are unacceptable.

You MAY ask: Are you able to work on weekends if necessary?


 Questions indicative of an applicants sex are unacceptable.


 Questions that can establish an applicants age or approximate age are unacceptable.

You MAY NOT ask: When did you graduate from high school? Or How old are you?

You MAY ask: Are you over 18?

Marital Status and Child Care 

Questions about Marital status, pregnancy, future childcare plans and childcare arrangements are unacceptable.

You MAY NOT ask: Do you have any children? What are your childcare arrangements?

You MAY ask: Is there anything that would prevent you from coming to work regularly?

Military Service

Questions regarding dates of military service and nature of military discharge are unacceptable unless a business necessity can be shown.


 Questions regarding the existence, nature, or severity of a disability are not unacceptable. Whether an inquiry is permissive or not is not intuitively obvious; it has to be on a case by case basis.

You MAY NEVER ask: What disabilities do you have? or Do you have AIDS or are you HIV positive? (There is no acceptable way to inquire about this, or any other medical condition.)

You MAY ask: Are you able to perform the essential functions of the job to which you are applying? (Be sure you tell the applicant what the essential functions are.)

While this is not a bullet proof list of everything you need to watch out for it is certainly a great starting point.

Remember you are always allowed to ask any questions relating to job specific skills, education, prior employment, applicants professional goals, reasons for applying for your position, and strengths and weaknesses.

Good luck and happy interviewing.

-Steven Wootton, B.S.H.R., C.S.C., Owner/Managing Partner, Desert Medical Careers, Inc.

If you would like to be placed in a healthcare job within the United States, please fill out the form below or call us at 602-468-6300.

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