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Illegal Interview Questions

by - 04/11/2021
"Sad but true...illegal interview questions are often asked by hiring managers because they haven't received proper training on this subject. Have you ever gone on a job interview and been asked a question that made you uncomfortable? "
Illegal Interview Questions

Sad but true...illegal interview questions are often asked by hiring managers because they haven't received proper training on this subject. Have you ever gone on a job interview and been asked a question that made you uncomfortable? How many children do you have? What did your father do for a living? Do you have any medical issues?

The list of subjects that are off limits to employers is long. We'll take a look at some of the most common problem areas, and more importantly, what to do if you're confronted with this situation.
Laws that Gave Rise to Illegal Interview Questions

In the U.S., there are several laws that protect workers from discrimination, most notably:

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) - covers discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 - deals with equal pay for equal work.
Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 - provides protection for workers over 40 years of age.
Title 1 and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 - protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace.

These laws collectively govern what employers can legally ask in an interview situation. Let's take a closer look.
What's Off Limits?

In general, the following areas give rise to illegal interview questions: age, national origin, credit ratings, disability, health related issues, family or marital status, military status, arrest records, race, and sexual orientation.

Employers are legitimately entitled to know whether you are capable of fulfilling the requirements of a job. This means that employers can inquire into some of the areas that are deemed to be illegal interview questions provided there is a job related purpose to the question.

For example...

A bartender needs to be over a certain age in order to serve alcohol to customers.

Without a legitimate purpose, age - and questions that can lead to age being disclosed - are fall under the category of illegal interview questions.
Sample Illegal Interview Questions

While not an exhaustive list, the following questions will give you good insight into questions that employers are not permitted to ask.
Note: Questions with an asterisk(*) can be explored
only to the extent they are relevant to the job.

How old are you?
When did you graduate from high school, college?
When were you discharged from the military?
Do you own or rent your home?
Are you a U.S. citizen?
Where were you born? Where were your parents born?
Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a crime?*
What is your credit rating?
Are you disabled?*
Do you have any chronic medical conditions?*
How is your health?*
How much do you weigh?
How much sick time did you take in your last job?
Are you married? Divorced?
Do you have any children?
Do you plan on having any children?
Are you pregnant?
What religion are you?
Do you belong to any religious organizations?
Do you attend church services?
What is your sexual orientation?
Have you ever filed a worker's comp claim?

This means that with medical situations, the employer is limited to asking if you have any limitations or need any special accommodations in order to fulfill the requirements of the position. They cannot get into specifics about your illness or injury.

Similarly, if you are applying for a financial position, where you will have access to money, an employer can legitimately ask about arrests and convictions related to a breach of fiduciary duties.

Employers are also permitted to perform a background check on you to verify information provided on a job application or resume.

If you have an arrest/conviction record, you might want to seek out legal advice on how to handle disclosure with a prospective employer.
What to do When You're Asked Illegal Interview Questions

Most interviewers are not asking illegal interview questions intentionally. In most cases, they are trying to make conversation, and are likely ignorant of the laws they are breaking. The typical off limits questions you'll be asked will probably relate to marital status and children.

Having common ground with your interviewer is usually a good thing in an interview. If you find out that your kids all play soccer, it gives you something to talk about. While technically, a question about children is not appropriate, you'll need to decide whether to take your interviewer to task, if all he/she is doing is trying to put you at ease!

My advice as an experienced recruiter is to answer any question asked - legal or not - that does not make you feel uncomfortable. If you detect a pattern, that is, if you're asked several questions that are inappropriate, rather than taking the company to court, I would be more inclined to evaluate whether this is really a place you want to work.

If a question makes you feel uncomfortable, you have some options:

You can terminate the interview.
You can ask for an explanation on how the question is relevant to the job at hand.
You can answer the question, ignoring its illegal nature.
You can point out that the question is not appropriate and refuse to answer.

In short, none of these options is overly attractive. You are either going to knock yourself out of the running, berate yourself after the fact for not standing your ground - or anger the interviewer by pointing out their inappropriate behavior.
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