Illegal Job Interview Questions
QUESTION AN INTERVIEWER CANNOT ASK
- HAVE YOU EVER CHANGED YOUR NAME?
(can ask about “other names used” for reference checks)
- MARITAL STATUS?
- NAME OF SPOUSE OR NEAREST RELATIVE?
(can ask for the name of the person to contact in emergency)
ARE YOU PREGNANT?
- DO YOU HAVE CHILDREN?
- NAMES OR AGES OF YOUR CHILDREN?
- WHO WILL CARE FOR CHILDREN WHILE WORKING?
- WHERE SPOUSE OR PARENTS WORK?
- WHO RESIDES WITH YOU?
- YOUR AGE?
(Date of birth is OK, if age is required to do job. There are special laws governing hiring of minors and persons 70 or over; applicants can be asked if they fit into one of those categories)
- HEIGHT and WEIGHT?
(including ethnic groups, women)
- YOUR RELIGION?
(including name of priest, rabbi, minister)
- IF YOU OWN OR RENT YOUR HOME?
- BANK NAME?
- AMOUNT OF OUTSTANDING LOANS?
Dealing with Illegal Questions
Technically, this is a free country. Our Constitution gives all of us the right of free speech, including the right of an employer to ask inappropriate questions. (Some people would disagree, however, saying that an employer does not have this right.) Employers can ask almost anything they want in an interview or on an application. They can ask offensive questions, personal questions, and even just plain dumb questions.
What is an illegal interview Questions
The problem arises when employers use that information to hire one person over another based on certain criteria, such as race, gender, or religion. That action is illegal, although it is very difficult to prove that an employer actually does that. The truth is that some employers base their hiring decisions on things that should not be an issue at all – things such as age, religious affiliation, weight, family status, physical beauty, race or ethnic background, and other inappropriate criteria.
As a job seeker, the more important issue might be whether or not you want the job. If you want to insist that you do not have to answer a certain questions, fine. However, realize that the question was probably intended to find our whether you will be a good employee. That is a legitimate concern for an employer, and you have the responsibility, if you want the job, of letting the employer know you will be a good choice.
There are situations (thankfully, very rare) where an interviewer’s questions are offensive. They may be offensive in the way they are asked or because of the type of questions they are. If that is the case, you could fairly conclude that you would not consider working for such a person. You just might, in this sort of situation, tell that employer what you think of him or her. You might also consider reporting that employer to the authorities. (A follow-up thank-you note for the interview would not be required in this case.)
Know the Laws That Protect You From Discrimination
Two major laws come into play in cases of hiring discrimination:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which was enacted in 1964 and is still very much in effect, makes discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, or national origin illegal in hiring discussions.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act, which passed in 1990 and was put into effect in 1992, requires that an employer provide an equal opportunity for an individual with a disability to participate in the job application process and to be considered for a job.
A specific job might require an answer to some questions that might appear to be illegal for other jobs. For example, firefighters need to be in good physical condition because they may be required to climb a ladder carrying 100 or more pounds. Therefore strength and health-related questions are acceptable in interviews for firefighters. Bartenders need to be at least 21 years old, so the interview can ask about age when interviewing a bartender. These are examples of legitimate job-related questions that an employer can ask when interviewing people for these jobs. In general, an employer is not allowed to ask for or consider information that is not related to a person’s ability to do the job.
Begin by considering how an employer might be legitimately concerned about you or your situation. Might the employer think that you would be less reliable, less productive, or in some other way less capable of doing the job? If so (and the typical answer here is that some might), practice an answer that indicates the problem will not be an issue in your case.
For example, if you have young children at home (an issue, by the way, that men are rarely asked about), it is to your advantage to mention that you have excellent child care and don’t expect any problems. In addition, look for a way to present your “problem” as an advantage. Perhaps you could say that your additional responsibilities make it even more important for you to be well-organized, a skill that you have developed over many years and fully expect to apply in the new job. In other words, turn your disadvantage into an advantage.