What interview questions are illegal or inappropriate for employers to ask?

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Interviews are chock-full of questions. It is a given expectation prospective employers are going to ask interviewees many questions to determine whether or not they would be a good fit for the organization. But did you know there are many questions they are not allowed to ask? Some of these may be obvious, but others might surprise you.

Laws designed to protect

While there are questions that might be inappropriate for an employer to ask job applicants, there are a number of questions that are actually illegal under federal and/or state laws. These laws are structured in such a way as to ensure no discriminatory hiring practices take place. Employers are supposed to abide by these rules; however, it is important that anyone applying for a job understands what they don't have to answer.

What questions are employers not allowed to ask?

Questions that are illegal to ask prospective employees are queries related to race, color, creed, sex, national origin or birthplace; this was forbidden under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Here are a few examples of the types of interview questions that are illegal:

  • Questions about age, such as, "How old are you?" (Especially if over the age of 40. However, the interviewer can ask if the applicant is under the age of 18).
  • Queries about marriage and children. Examples would be, "Are you married," "How many children do you have?", "Are you pregnant or plan to become pregnant?", or "How do you plan on handling daycare?" In addition, any questions relating to types of birth control and whether or not birth control is being used are also illegal.
  • Asking about sexual preferences or gender identity.
  • Questions about hospitalizations, whether or not an applicant is being treated for a mental condition, drug problem or other condition. Even questions about social drinking are not permissible.
  • Arrest records cannot be requested; however, convictions are legal to ask about.
  • Asking a job candidate what his or her native tongue is. Nor can they ask what country a person is from; all that matters is whether he or she is legally allowed to work in the U.S.
  • Asking interviewees which religious holidays they observe is also prohibited by law.

In addition to these basic questions, any similar queries that fish for information relating to these kinds of questions may also violate the law. Lifehacker notes interviewees should also watch for questions such as, "How long have you been working?" or "When did you graduate high school?" Employers that ask these types of questions are trying to indirectly ask what they aren't allowed to.

Often employers are tempted to ask questions but either must refrain or carefully frame their questions so they are permissible by law. Some questions are tricky. For instance, while employers cannot ask about health issues, they are allowed to ask about specifics that might relate to the job, such as how many pounds a person can lift or if standing for several hours is doable.

Why is the question being asked?

Since part of an interview's purpose is to find out as much as possible about a job applicant, questions are going to be asked. It's a "getting to know you" period of time for both interviewer and interviewee to decide if a job is a good fit. However, interviewers must be mindful of what they ask and how they phrase their questions, and applicants should pay attention too. If what may be an inappropriate question arises, especially if the query isn't job relevant, it is important to carefully consider what the motivation for the question might be.

Under most circumstances, if the query is not job-related or does not have any kind of relevance to the job or job performance, chances are it could be an illegal question. Before going on an interview, it is a good idea to get familiarized with what would be considered an illegal question to ensure your civil rights are not violated.

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