Too often businesses place illegal, irrelevant, and avoidable questions on job applications. These questions can put your company in jeopardy of a discrimination lawsuit or a breach of confidential information.

If you have any of these 11 questions on your current job application, you should delete them immediately.

We are talking about job applications given to candidates before they are hired. At this time it is important to request only information that is essential to making a hiring decision. Some information on this list is important, but not at this stage. We will address this more at the end of our list.

  1. Social Security Number

To avoid identity theft or charges of misuse, it is recommended to delete this question. However, it is considered legal. The problem is that such sensitive information will place you at risk so early on in the hiring process. The SSN at the moment is irrelevant. You can always require the SSN later on in the process for background checks and/or after hire.

  1. Date of Birth or Age

To avoid any claims of age discrimination and in compliance with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), date of birth and/or age should not be included on the job application. However, if it is relevant to the job requirements, you can ask if the person is over the age of 18, over the age of 16, or even over the age of 21.

  1. Race

Race should never be asked on the job application. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that any race information must remain separate from the job application form. If your company requires such information for Affirmative Action purposes, a separate form should be given for the candidate to fill out.

  1. Gender

The EEOC prohibits the gender question on a job application unless this is a bona fide occupational qualification. This is because gender should not be a factor for many jobs and opens you up for a discrimination lawsuit.

  1. Citizenship

The Immigration Reform and Control Act prohibits this question because employers must not discriminate against non US citizens.  Instead of asking an applicant’s citizenship, you must ask if they are “legal to work in the US”. Citizenship is irrelevant at this point and will be asked on the Form I-9 if hired.

  1. Marital Status

This is not an indication of whether this person can do the job or not. Not much to say here, just delete it. This includes deleting the question of Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Miss.

  1. Disabilities

It is illegal to ask if the applicant has a disability, even if it may prevent them from doing the job. This is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Instead, you may ask if the person “can perform the job duties with or without reasonable accommodation”.

  1. Military Discharge Details

Do not ask why the applicant was discharged from the military or if they were honorably discharged! Asking such questions can violate anti-discrimination laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act. You can ask about their ranking, duties, training, etc.

  1. Have You Ever Been “Arrested”?

Unless the job is security related, instead of using the word “arrest” you must rephrase the question and ask if the person was ever “convicted”.  According to the EEOC, this is a better indication of criminal conduct. Some states however, ban this question all together. It is recommended you verify your state’s law.

  1. Emergency Contact Information

This is irrelevant during the job application process. Someone else’s personal information should not be given at this stage. This is good information to have only when the person is hired and to be used only in cases of emergency.

  1. Clubs or Organizations

You may be at risk of soliciting information about a protected class (gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) if you ask in general what clubs or organizations the applicant is affiliated with. You may however ask them to list professional organizations that are relevant to the ability to do the job.


Key Reminders

Many times employers want to ask questions on the job application that are best suited to be asked on other forms during another phase of the hiring process. For example, social security numbers can be requested on a Background Check form after the person is deemed to be a strong candidate.

When creating or evaluating your company’s job application it is important to ask yourself, “is this question relevant to making a nondiscriminatory hiring decision”. If the answer is “no” or “maybe” it is best to delete or seek advice from an employment counselor.

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