It is important to know your rights as an employee. Unlawful questions are not acceptable on applications, during the interview process, or in the workplace. Although improper questions by employers might be simple mistakes, they could also be intentional cases of discrimination that should be reported.
Legal and illegal interview questions
How you would you respond to each question?
1. How old are you?
2. What’s your native tongue?
3. What language do you use when writing?
4. What’s your marital status?
5. Would you be willing to work overtime as necessary?
6. To what clubs do you belong?
7. How much do you weigh?
8. How’s your family’s health?
9. Have you ever been convicted of a felony?
10. In what branch of the Armed Forces did you serve?
11. Have you had any recent illnesses?
12. Do you have children?
Scoring: Questions 3, 5, 9 and 10 are legal. The others are illegal. Generally, interview questions should focus on your ability to do the job. It’s illegal to base hiring decisions on certain other criteria.
Numerous federal and state laws protect employees form discrimination. These include the Fair Labor Standards Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Occupational Safety Act.
For example, Title V11 of the Civil Rights Act, makes discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin illegal in hiring decisions, and The American with Disabilities Act requires that an employer provide equal opportunities to individuals with disabilities. Check your state and federal acts related fair employment and housing practices.
There are situations where a specific job might require an answer to some questions that might appear to be illegal for other jobs. For example, a firefighter needs to be in good physical condition so health-related questions are acceptable.
Smart interviewers can get the information they want by asking open-ended questions. For example, instead of asking “Are you living with anyone?” interviewers can ask “Do you foresee any situations that would prevent you from relocating?”
Examples of illegal and legal questions
Illegal — When did you graduate? What’s your birth date?
Legal — Are you over 18?
National Origin, Citizenship
Illegal — Are you a US citizen? Where were your parents born?
Legal — Are you authorized to work in the US?
Illegal — With whom do you live? Do you plan to have a family? What are your child-care arrangements?
Legal — Would you be willing to relocate if necessary? Would you be willing to travel as needed for the job?
Illegal — To what social organizations do you belong?
Legal — List any professional, trade or other groups to which you belong that is relevant to performing this job.
Illegal — How tall are you?
Legal — Questions about height, weight and strength are acceptable if certain minimum standards are essential for safe and efficient job performance.
Disabilities or Limitations
Illegal — Do you have any disabilities? Please complete this medical history. What was the date of your last physical exam? Do you need an accommodation to perform the job?
Legal — Describe how you would carry a 200 pound weight 50 yards with or without accommodation.
Illegal — Have you ever been arrested?
Legal — Have you ever been convicted of __________? (The crime should be related to the performance of the job in question.)
Illegal — Were you honorably discharged?
Legal — What type of training did you receive?
Illegal — We haven’t hired a woman before. What makes you think you can do this job?
Legal — Describe the skills you have to do this job.
Illegal — Do you take drugs, smoke or drink?
Legal — Have you ever been disciplined for violating company policies about the use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs?
Illegal — Are you pregnant?
Legal — Will you be able to work overtime or travel?
Do the forgoing or any other areas of discrimination apply to you? If so, what are these? What can you do to turn around an illegal interview question or situation to protect you from discrimination? What federal or state law or agency could help you resolve a discrimination issue?
Dr. Carole Kanchier, career and personal growth expert, informs and inspires you to realize your potential. A coach and international newspaper/digital columnist, she is author of award-winning, Questers Dare to Change Your Job and Life: https://www.amazon.com/Questers-Dare-Change-Your-Life/dp/1508408963