With changes to employment law and so much advice about applicant screening, a small business can face challenges. Questions once legitimate and even considered appropriate can be cause for litigation today. This information, plus a few tips, can help you ace the interview with a prospective hire and avoid treading legal hot water.

Applicants must confirm work eligibility

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Employment candidates must confirm work eligibility through Form I-9 and documentation. USCIS states, “This includes citizens and noncitizens. Both employees and employers, or authorized representatives of the employer, must complete the form. On the form, an employee must attest to his or her employment authorization. The employee must also present his or her employer with acceptable documents evidencing identity and employment authorization.” Because of Form I-9, employers are spared having to confirm eligibility through questions alluding to race, gender, age, ethnicity and nationality.

Provide job application and written job description

Prevent headaches during the interview process with a completed job application from your candidates. A job application supplements Form I-9 information. The application can request consent to do a background check. Before proceeding with an in-office interview, confirm the application is complete and all I-9 documentation is in place. Be sure to also prepare a list of interview questions and a written job description to further ease the interview process. Before interviewing, consult with an employment specialist if possible.

Keeping the interview job specific

Make sure your questions are job related. Questions such as these are acceptable:

  • At your former company, what do you consider to have been your most important accomplishments?
  • What did you enjoy most while working for your former employer?
  • Why did you leave your former employer?
  • How would your experience fit in with a production environment?
  • Are you licensed or certified for this type of work?
  • Would you be willing to relocate or travel?
  • At your previous company, what challenges did you encounter and how were they resolved?
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Avoiding the impropriety trap

Employers occasionally commit unintentional breaches of etiquette that can become a legal issue. Some examples are:

  • Are you receiving alimony or child support?
  • Do you have a nanny or use daycare services?
  • Do you have your own health insurance?
  • What is your marital status?
  • Did you have problems getting to the handicap entrance?
  • Where does your family come from?
  • Are there personal or family situations that would impact job performance?
  • How much medical, family or maternity leave would you require?
  • Our new hires must fit the company’s profile.
  • What is your religious and political affiliation?
  • You’re from a group that has a strong work ethic.
  • Aren’t you mature for this position?
  • Are you trying to recover from a job loss?
  • Would you consent to a DNA sample for drug and alcohol testing?

Skills testing

Although employment testing can be a hiring prerequisite, some types of tests are not permitted. Before administering a job skills test, refer to the EEOC’s policy on employment testing.

Final tips

  • Think etiquette, ethics and legality.
  • Keep an HR policy manual in your library.
  • Get a copy of the EEOC’s Prohibited Employment Policies/Practices.
  • Consult with a lawyer who specializes in employment law.


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This article was written by Linda Cameron for CBS Small Business Pulse