How To Handle Illegal Interview Questions

In a perfect world, candidates would only be asked questions that are 100% legal. Unfortunately, job seekers have to deal with illegal interview questions all of the time. It’s very easy for an interviewer to go into those illegal areas without even realizing it. Sometimes, interviewers are untrained and don’t realize the error of their ways, and sometimes they just mess up.

Related: Interview Hack: Document Everything!

Either way, candidates should know their rights and responsibilities about what can and cannot be asked in an interview. Here’s a brief summary of topics that may come up during an interview, what can legally be asked, what can’t, and how to handle illegal interview questions:

Family Status

Legal question: Do you have any responsibilities that conflict with attendance or travel requirements?

Why this question is legal: The position requires the person filling the job to have regular attendance and the ability to travel. This question pertains to the job duties.

Discriminatory questions: Are you married? Do you have children? Are you pregnant?

Why these questions are illegal: The questions have no bearing on whether or not the person can perform the job.

Race

Legal question: None.

Discriminatory question: What is your race?

Why this question is illegal: The EEOC protects people from discrimination based on race. A person’s race does not impact one’s ability to do a job.

Religion

Legal question: None.

Discriminatory questions: What church do you attend? What is your religion?

Why these questions are illegal: The EEOC protects people from discrimination based on religion. A person’s religion does not impact one’s ability to do a job.

Residence

Legal question: What is your address?

Why this question is legal: Prospective employers may ask a candidate’s address to correspond with the person during the interviewing process.

Illegal questions: Do you own your home? Do you rent your home? Who lives with you?

Why these questions are illegal: A person’s residence has no bearing on whether or not he or she will be a good employee.

Gender

Legal question: None.

Discriminatory question: Are you male or female?

Why this question is illegal: The EEOC protects people from discrimination based on gender. A person’s gender does not impact one’s ability to do a job.

Age

Legal question: If you are hired, can you provide proof that you are at least 18?

Why this question is legal: Some employers are only able to hire candidates who are legally adults. If this does not apply to your workplace, you shouldn’t ask this question.

Discriminatory questions: How old are you? When is your birth date?

Why these questions are illegal: The EEOC protects people from discrimination based on age. A person’s age does not impact one’s ability to do a job.

Interviewers are allowed to ask candidates if they have ever been convicted of a crime, but they may not ask if they have been arrested. The interviewer should inform you that the conviction will be considered only as it relates to the ability to do the job.

For example, many positions require security clearances. Depending on the type of convictions, a candidate may have difficulty in obtaining a security clearance.

An interviewer may also ask if a candidate can show proof of eligibility to work in the United States and if the candidate is fluent in any other languages other than English. However, the candidate may not be asked if he/she is a U.S. citizen.

If you’re in an interview and the interviewer asks you a question that you know is illegal, try to steer the questions back to something that’s a little more job-related. In most cases, interviewers aren’t intentionally trying to ask illegal interview questions, so a friendly reminder may be all that’s needed. If you still feel uncomfortable after the interview about the questions you were asked, be sure to share this with the recruiter or HR professional who arranged the interview.

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This post was originally published on an earlier date.

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