Rules and regulations are abound for businesses, large and small, when it comes to hiring employees. The same laws and rules apply when hiring interns as well. It’s a good idea for small business owners to revisit the types of questions you may or may not ask of potential interns during employment screenings, such as these below.
What Questions are Off-Limits for Prospective Employees to Ask?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits you from asking questions that reveal age, race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, and marital status. You also cannot ask questions regarding pregnancy status, if interns have children, questions regarding arrest records, or military discharge status.
Getting the Answers You Need without Asking the Wrong Questions
Sometimes you have to get creative when asking questions in order to ensure you’re getting the right person for the job, but it must be done so without violating the law or their rights as potential employees. Even questions asked in complete innocence can cost companies big if they violate the law.
This doesn’t mean employers don’t have the right to ensure that employees will be available to work when needed or meet other demands of the job. You do still have options to help you find out information that’s relevant to the ability of a candidate to do the job you’re hiring them to do.
For instance, small convalescent centers or nursing homes operate around the clock every day of the year. This includes many religious holidays and the Sabbath. While you cannot ask employees which religious holidays they practice to determine whether they’ll be available when you need them, you can ask if they’re available to work on Saturday evenings or Sundays.
You also cannot ask potential interns if they have children. If you’re worried about the ability of the intern to travel for work or the availability of interns to work specific hours, you may ask them what hours they are available to work and if they have responsibilities that may interfere with their ability to travel for work or other specific job requirements. Remember to be specific and keep it job related. Otherwise, it has the potential to come across as fishing for information you aren’t allowed to ask.
Nation of origin/nationality is another off-limits topic. However, most U.S. jobs need employees who speak English fluently. You cannot ask employees about their accents, their parents’ country, if English is their native language, or even where their parents were born. You may, however, ask them which languages they speak fluently and if they are legally authorized to work in the U.S.
It’s not enough to simply avoid asking questions that can land your small business in some boiling hot water. You also need to make sure you’re covered by sufficient Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) coverage in case you’re ever faced with a discrimination lawsuit.