How to Keep the Early Hiring Process Ethical and Legal

Hiring a rich, diverse group of people for your office is essential for a well staffed workforce. The hiring process can be long or short, depending upon the organization, but one of the most standard starting points is the employee application.Applications can take on a variety of forms, from online work profiles to the photocopied piece of paper that is stashed deep within the manager’s paperwork. No matter which type of application is used, it is crucial to make sure that the questionnaire is fair and legal, lest the office run the risk of getting sued.

Unless an application is approved by a lawyer or legal department first, there can be numerous legal mistakes that the employer may not be aware of. As harmless as they may seem, information relating to basic aspects of a person’s life can be discriminatory and lead to poor hiring practices. How the application is worded can make or break the document ad it is important to get it right.


First and foremost, employers can never ask individuals what race they are. Determining the race of a person can sway a hiring manager’s opinion whether they realize it or not and it should never be listed on an employee application (Eberhardt, 2019). If your company receives tax benefits from keeping a certain percentage of genders, races and other potentially discriminatory identifiers, an optional survey can be included at the end of the application with the full disclosure as to why the business is asking this info.

Social Security Numbers

Socials used to be front and center on most applications– they were a major identifier for employees, as each SSN is unique to each person. There can be 30 John Smith’s applying for a job but each one has their own social security number that is different from the rest. The problem with scribbling a social on an application is that anyone who openly attaches this number to their other relevant information runs the risk of privacy and data security issues (Handrik, 2018). Luckily there are other ways that can help identify candidates aside from these numbers.AddressesThis one seems particularly harmless, but there is a reason that including an address on an application is not appropriate. Having a potential employee submit their home address lets an employer know where they live, which can link back to the individual’s financial status and possibly even race (or at least a perceived idea of race) which is against Title VII (Handrik, 2018). a more appropriate piece of information to ask would be an email address or phone number.AgeTitle VII and ADEA prevent discrimination based on the age of an individual (Handrik., 2018). Because of this, it is important to not ask for any identifiers pertaining to the age of someone. This type of criteria involves date of birth and even what years a person attended or graduated from any type of school. Many positions require a candidate to be over 18 years of age; if this is the case, simply asking “Are you age 18 or older?’ is an acceptable way to address this.Marital Status Asking the marital status of a potential hire is unethical and illegal (, n.d). Asking someone if they are married or not can give a hiring manager the idea that A) a person is single and irresponsible or B) the person could need to go out for maternity leave at any given time. For this reason, it is also illegal to ask an applicant if they have any children.DisabilitiesThe Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prevents discrimination against those with disabilities. Outright asking if someone is disabled is illegal and inappropriate (, n.d.). While asking if a person can physically perform the tasks outlined for them is illegal, asking what prevents them from doing so is not. Similarly, employers cannot ask about the height or weight of individuals.Criminal ActivityAsking if a person has ever been arrested is illegal. Asking why they were arrested crosses that line that much further. Knowing if a person has ever been arrested can lead HR into thinking negatively about a person, whether they where guilty of a crime or not. If an employer would like to know about possible criminal history, they can ask if the candidate has ever been convicted of a crime, but only if it directly pertains to the job (, n.d.).Military ServicePast, current and future military personnel have laws that prevent job discrimination in addition to other regulations. Applications can ask future employees if they are active or inactive military, but they are not allowed to ask rank, affiliation or details involving discharge (Handrik, 2018). Other Inappropriate InfoOther facets of information that are inappropriate to ask applicants include if they are currently employed, what foreign languages they speak and what subjects of special study they previously had. Employers can have a check off box asking if a job is a current employer and if they can contact said employer, but asking employment status can cause prejudgment. Asking about extracurriculars can often identify special interests related to a person’s age, gender, race and religion, all of while are protected by Title VII (Handrik, 2018). Lastly, bilingual staff members are an asset to any team but asking “What foreign languages do you speak?” is written inappropriately. Asking the candidate if they are fluent in languages other than English is acceptable and does not hint to employers what ethnic group, the applicant may or may not be apart of.
Diversity is at the backbone of any successful business. Discrimination of any peoples, regardless of race, gender, financial status, age, disability or any other identifying factor is illegal and unethical. The United States has rules and regulations to prevent workplace discrimination, but hiring people from different backgrounds should be encouraged whether these rules are in place or not. When individuals from all walks of life come together, new thought processes and ideas can spawn and the business can flourish. Making an employee application match this attitude is the key to the start of a successful hiring process
Eberhardt, J. (2019). Biased. (1st ed.). New York. Viking.
Handrik, L. (2018, May 14). Employee application form: free template, what to ask & what to avoid. Retrieved from
8 illegal interview questions you should never answer. (n.d.) Retrieved from

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