Searching for a job can be a long, tiresome, and emotional experience. When you finally land an interview, it can be somewhat of a relief because you know you are getting closer to finding employment. Going into an interview you expect to be asked questions about yourself and you have likely prepared answers in advance. However, sometimes interviewers will ask questions that seem harmless but are really geared toward seeking information they are not legally allowed to make employment decisions based on.
It is illegal not to hire a candidate based on their race, color, sex, religion, national origin, birthplace, age, disability, or marital/family status. This means that an employer should not ask you any questions that elicit this type of information from you, or that would discourage you from volunteering these types of details about yourself. The only time an employer can ask about these types of interview questions is if they relate to a bona fide occupational qualification that is reasonably necessary to the normal operation of business. For example, if the interview was for a job as a priest at a Catholic Church, it is permissible for the interviewer to ask if the person interviewing was Catholic.
The following are some interview questions that are inappropriate, followed by an acceptable way to ask the question and get the same result the interviewer is looking for.
Questions related to national origin, birthplace, or ancestry:
“Were you born in the United States?”
“Are your parents from the United States?”
“How long have you lived in the United States?”
“Are you eligible to work in the United States?”
Questions related to marital status, children, or pregnancy:
“Are you planning to have children?”
“Do you have a nanny or would you consider hiring one?”
“The work schedule here is from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM, are you able to work those hours?”
Questions related to physical disability, health, or medical history:
“Do you take any medications?”
“Do you have any pre-existing health conditions?”
“Are you able to walk at all?”
“The job we are looking to hire for involves moving heavy boxes from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM, will you be able to do that with or without a reasonable accommodation?”
Questions related to religion:
“What religion do you practice?”
“What religious holidays do you celebrate?”
“How often do you go to church?”
“This job requires that you work on some weekends, are you able to do that?”
Questions related to age:
“How old are you?”
“What year were you born?”
“What year did you graduate from high school?”
“Are you over the age of 18?”
There are a few ways to answer an illegal interview question. The first way to handle the question, if you are comfortable doing so, is you can answer the question anyway. The interviewer may not be trying to discriminate against you, and if you don’t feel any harm will come of it you can answer the question.
Another way to answer an illegal question is to respond to the intent of the interviewer’s question. For example, if an interviewer asks you if you were born in the United States, you can respond that you are eligible to legally work in the United States.
A third option for answering an illegal interview question is to ignore the question and change the subject. This could be more difficult to do, because the interviewer may bring you back to the question and cause an awkward situation, but it is an option.
The final and most obvious way to answer an illegal question is to simply refuse to answer the question. You can tell the interviewer that the question he or she is asking doesn’t seem to be fair or relevant to specific requirements of the job.