Hey, You Can’t Ask Me That! 4 Illegal Job Interview Questions, Part 1 covered marriage and family questions, age-related questions, nationality questions, and disability questions. However, there’s just so much information that you can pack into one article. Part 2 will provide specific examples of the types of illegal questions that you may be asked, along with examples of questions that an interviewer can legally ask.
It’s important to understand that most companies don’t have some sort of sinister agenda behind asking you illegal questions. Contrary to what Mitt Romney says, companies are not people. However, they are owned, operated, and managed by people. And people have a tendency to hire applicants who look like them, think like them, act like them, and have the same religious, social and personal beliefs.
In addition, companies like to maximize their profits, and many of them feel that one of the best ways to do this is to hire the youngest and fittest applicants who also have the lowest level of family obligations. As such, they may view applicants with special needs or health problems, as well as those of a certain age or who are primary caregivers, as candidates who may work at a slower pace or require more time off work that the average employee.
However, the Federal government prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants for these reasons, so you have a right to know your legal rights during the interview process. With data from Michigan Technological University and the National Association of Colleges and Employers, what follows is a wealth of information that can help you navigate through the murky legal waters of the 21st Century interview.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prevents employers from discriminating against workers over the age of 40. And it is illegal to ask applicants their age, date of birth, or any type of questions that would reveal their age. It is also illegal to ask for a birth certificate during the interview process. However, as noted in Part 1, this law is routinely violated by companies that ask for birthdates, school attendance dates, and years of experience on their applications. In addition, some companies ask applicants to complete forms authorizing background checks and these forms usually require a driver’s license, which lists the applicant’s date of birth.
However, if the applicant is a minor, it is legal to ask for a work permit or a certificate of age. Conversely, an interviewer can ask if the applicant can provide proof of age if hired.
Marriage and Family
It is illegal to ask if an applicant is single, engaged, married, or divorced, or to inquire about the applicant’s pregnancy plans, number of children, or the children’s ages. It is also illegal to ask an applicant about the name of their spouse, if the spouse works, and if so, how much money the spouse makes, or if the spouse may be required to transfer for a job. Acceptable questions, which must be asked of both sexes, include if the applicant has commitments or responsibilities that may hinder them from meeting work attendance requirements, or if they anticipate any absences. After the applicant has been hired, they can be asked about their marital status, spouse’s age and the number and ages of dependents for tax and insurance reasons.
It is illegal for an interviewer to ask about any arrest that did not result in a conviction. In addition, it is illegal to conduct a background check into an applicant’s history of arrests and convictions – unless this information is related to the job and the conviction or subsequent release occurred within the past ten years. (For example, a bank officer may ask if you’ve been convicted or released from prison for armed robbery in the past ten years, or a school may ask if you’ve been convicted of or released from prison for child molestation within the past ten years.)
It is illegal to ask applicants if they are native-born, if English is their first language, or any questions that might identify place of origin. It is also illegal to ask about the national origin or birthplace of the applicant’s parents or spouse, or to ask their date of arrival, or their port of entry. In addition, it is illegal to inquire about the color of an applicant’s eyes, skin or hair, or to ask any type of question that would reveal their race.
However, it is legal to ask applicants if they can read, write or speak foreign languages that are related to performing the job. It is also acceptable to ask applicants if they can submit a birth certificate, proof of citizenship, or work permit after they are hired. After hire, it is also permissible to ask for their race so this information can be documented as a part of affirmative action statistics.
It is illegal to ask about an applicant’s religious denomination or affiliation, or to ask about the religious holidays or customs that they observe, or to inquire about their pastor or other religious leader, or their church. It is also illegal to ask the applicant to obtain a letter of recommendation from their pastor or religious leader. However, an interviewer can inform the applicant of the typical workdays and hours of the job.
It is illegal to ask applicants if they are disabled or to ask about the cause or gravity of their disability, according to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The applicant can reveal their disability, and at that point, an interviewer can ask the applicant to share details. However, it must be made clear that revealing this information is completely voluntary, will remain confidential, and will not be held against the applicant. An interviewer can ask how the applicant can safely perform the required job duties, for example, “How would you perform this particular task?” An applicant can only be asked what type of accommodation would be needed if the interviewer is considering the person for the job.