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:
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.
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 - all 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.
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:
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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