To ensure interviews won't cross into what I call "don't-go-there territory," consider creating a structured guide with a list of questions you plan to ask every candidate, and make sure you understand the questions you should not ask.

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It was the hiring manager’s first time conducting a job interview. Being nervous, he began the interview with what he thought was simple chit-chat, asking the candidate if she had a nice weekend and had done anything interesting.

The candidate, wanting to be responsive and engaging, answered with a story about the church picnic she attended with her husband and four children. Right out of the gate, the hiring manager knew too much information about the candidate, and was heading into dangerous territory in the eyes of the law.

When you’re a new manager, interviewing others can be difficult. To ensure interviews won’t cross into what I call “don’t-go-there territory,” consider creating a structured guide with a list of questions you plan to ask every candidate, and make sure you understand the questions you should not ask.

During interviews (especially during the casual chit-chat portion), labor and employment attorney Renee Jackson recommends avoiding questions based on race, religion, gender, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, veteran or military status, and physical, mental or sensory disabilities.

These are all “protected classes” under Washington state law. For example, here are a few questions Jackson advises hiring managers in Washington NOT ask during job interviews:

“How many children do you have? Who will watch them while you’re at work?” “You may ask the applicant whether he/she can meet the specified work schedule for the position, but you may not inquire into the number of children or child-care arrangements,” Jackson says.

“I see you’re walking with a limp — are you OK?” “You may not ask any questions related to the nature, extent or severity of a disability; however, you may ask whether the applicant is able to perform the essential functions of the position, with or without a reasonable accommodation,” Jackson says. To be safe, she says, this question is best posed on an employment application (and accompanied by a job description) rather than discussed during the interview.

“I love that cross necklace you’re wearing. To which church do you belong?” “You may not ask any questions about an applicant’s religious preference, denomination, church, parish, pastor or religious holidays observed,” warns Jackson. “Stay away from these questions entirely.”

“I want to confirm that you’re a good fit for this position. Can you give me access to your Facebook account?” “Under recently passed legislation, employers in Washington state are prohibited from asking for login information or access to the non-public portions of an applicant’s personal social media accounts,” Jackson notes. “Resist the temptation to find out even more about the applicant through this method.”

The best way to avoid wandering into discussions that can legally compromise you or your company is to ensure you’re fully prepared before conducting job interviews. Check with your HR department to find out what training your company offers on the do’s and don’ts of interviewing.

Lisa Quast is the founder of Career Woman, Inc., and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at