Q. I understand there are lots of questions we can’t ask during interviews. But what if the applicant brings up the subject? For example, if she mentions that she just had a baby, can I ask if she’s made child care arrangements? If a person is coming from out of town, I may ask why. If they say “boyfriend/girlfriend,” can I ask if it’s a permanent move? — S.L., Texas
A. As a general rule, you should limit your questions to matters related to the job. Even if the applicant introduces a topic, you should tread carefully in asking follow-up questions, especially if those questions might elicit information relating to a protected class.
Asking whether an applicant has made child care arrangements is not something you need to know. It is better to lay out the job’s requirements (including hours) and ask if the applicant can meet them, with or without a reasonable accommodation. If the applicant is female, she could claim that you would not have asked a male applicant the same question.
Asking whether an applicant’s move is permanent is less of an issue, since that question does not implicate any particular protected characteristic and you have a job-related reason for asking—you want to get a sense as to whether the applicant intends to stay at the company. But if you ask that type of question only of women, you could be vulnerable to a gender discrimination claim. In fact, you should ask each applicant for the same position the same questions as much as possible.