How Asking Illegal Interview Questions Could Be Hurting Your Franchise

Asking an illegal interview question – consciously or not – can be a costly mistake leading to time and money-consuming litigation that most businesses aren’t prepared to absorb. As a franchise owner, it’s important that you educate your hiring managers about interview questions that are off limits and how to avoid them. Paying careful attention to the interview process will make the experience less stressful for everyone involved and improve your franchise’s ability to hire and retain quality candidates.

A harmless or conversational question could be opening your business up to disaster

Breaking the law when asking interview questions is kind of like running a red light – we all know that we’re breaking the law but we assume that we can get away with it as long as no one gets hurt. That’s why it’s important to make sure your hiring manager understands the penalties for asking illegal interview questions and has a defined interview procedure to follow.

In most states, asking candidates questions unrelated to the open position is illegal, such as those concerning age, family, gender, marriage, nationality and religion. Even though certain questions might “seem harmless” if they come up in a casual conversation, they can influence your hiring decision. If a prospective employee feels their rights have been violated, they could file a discrimination lawsuit. It is the responsibility of the employer to know exactly what’s safe and let that guide the interviewer’s behavior at all stages of the hiring process.

Understanding the laws protecting potential employees and types of questions to avoid

Equal Employment Opportunity refers to the rights of all people to work and advance on the basis of merit, ability and potential. Since the 1960’s federal and state laws made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin. These rights are similarly covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employment discrimination against individuals ages 40 through 69. This includes failure to hire, discharge, denial of employment and discrimination related to the protected age.

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace. Employers are prohibited from asking questions about a candidate’s physical or mental condition during the interview or application process.

Job Relatedness ensures fairness and equality to any candidate. Interviewers need to have a list of job-related interview questions which are asked consistently for all applicants for the same position. If the employer asked questions unrelated to job performance, there is the potential the EEOC could scrutinize your hiring process for discriminatory practices.

How to approach or avoid hot-button topics

Within these employment laws, there are a series of potential interview topics that should be approached with caution by your hiring manager or avoided all together. Those areas that must be carefully asked include: attendance & scheduling, citizenship & nationality, arrest & conviction, disabilities, credit record, military record, language, organizations and education. For example, instead of asking, “What is your native language?” ask a candidate to explain their level of written and spoken fluency with a particular language. Or, when diving into questions about scheduling, avoid asking questions like, “Do you own a car?” or “How many children do you have?” and instead ask questions like, “do you have reliable transportation available to you?” and “are you able to fulfill the time and attendance responsibilities of this position?”

Managers should never ask candidates, directly or indirectly, about prior workers’ compensation claims, religion, gender or a candidate’s relationship status.  States and municipalities are event restricting questions pertaining to the candidate’s prior pay rate or salary history – Philadelphia being the most recent example.

A better interview process

Without a clearly defined hiring process, franchises face a series of hiring challenges and could experience high turnover and employee dissatisfaction as a result. If your hiring managers are asking illegal questions – even unknowingly – it can be a sign that your company lacks a consistent hiring process. Take time to educate your team on the most frequently asked illegal questions, and begin creating an interview process that evaluates candidates based on their potential for success within a specific position. A solid interview process that begins with the application and continues through the onboarding process will lead to hiring a better quality employee. It also enhances your overall brand and how potential applicants perceive your business and their potential for growth within your organization.

Adam Robinson is the co-founder and CEO of Hireology – the leading integrated hiring and retention platform in franchising – working with over 100 franchise clients and more than 2,000 franchisees. He’s the author of ‘The Best Team Wins: Build Your Business Through Predictive Hiring’ available at

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