Are There ‘Illegal’ Job Interview Questions?

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When applying for a job, prospective employers may use the interview process to identify ideal candidates and eventually choose who they think is the best fit for the job. Any number of questions and interview techniques may be used to explore the strengths and weaknesses of each job seeker.

Did you know, however, that there are certain things they may not ask? Indeed, that may be illegal to ask, and job applicants would do well to know their rights in this regard.

Generally, employers cannot solicit any information from a job applicant that can then be used to discriminate against them. For example, asking questions about race, ethnicity, or gender is prohibited. Similarly, employers may not ask about a candidate’s national origin, religion, sexual orientation, pregnancy status, disability, marital status, and number of children.

After all, none of these items have anything to do with a job seeker’s professional qualifications or the ability to perform once hired. According to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, a federal agency that enforces civil rights laws in the workplace, such questions are totally irrelevant. The EEOC does however, along with some state and federal laws, allow some common sense wiggle room as long as the interview questions serve an express business purpose.

Employers need to be extra careful with such inquiries as they could be used as evidence of an intent to discriminate if improperly administered. For instance, it could be illegal to inquire about a job applicant’s family status if the employer asked whether the candidate was married, single, or had any children. They can ask, however, if a candidate has any commitments that would prevent them from traveling or working evenings and weekends.

With respect to a candidate with a disability, an interviewer could describe the job in detail and ask if the candidate could perform all necessary criteria. They may not ask, however, if the applicant has a disability or if they’ve ever filed a workers’ compensation claim.

Here are several more examples of prohibited types of questions:

  • Are you Hispanic?
  • Do you go to church?
  • How much do you weigh?
  • What country are you from?
  • Are you pregnant?

It’s highly recommended for employers to consult with an employment attorney to standardize interview policies and procedures, and train hiring managers accordingly. Conversely, anyone who feels they may have faced discriminatory questions in a job interview would also benefit from speaking with an attorney. We encourage you to not wait to contact one of our experienced, local employment discrimination attorneys and ask your questions.