Job interviews can be lengthy and cumbersome for millions of job seekers across the country looking to land their next gig quickly. Many people do not have direct knowledge of the various laws that protect them against illegal and potentially hazardous questions posed during job interviews. In fact, while many companies abide by the regulations put forth to protect candidates, some may still be inquiring about subjects that are strictly off limits. Some of these companies may not even realize that they are asking illegal questions, because the questions seem harmless. On the other hand, some employers do purposely engage in illegal interviewing tactics that discriminate against candidates. Reviewing your rights as a job seeker are important and can protect you from exposing yourself to illegal inquiries. Below you will find a rundown of the laws and regulations in place, and a few examples of illegal questions that you may not know are illegal.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit discrimination against those with disabilities. This means that employers may NOT reject candidates or have any bias towards them based on their disability. All employers that have more than fifteen employees must adhere to this law. It is important to note that employers can ask about a person’s disability after an initial offer has been made, but they must ask all other recent hires as well. It is at the employee or candidate’s discretion whether they chose to disclose this information to their employer. The ADA also includes protections against discriminatory practices concerning mental health. Any line of questioning concerning the mental fitness of a candidate in relation to their mental disorders or mental disabilities are illegal. Here a few examples:
1. Are you on any medication?
2. Are there any mental disorders that may prevent you from performing the duties of this job?
3. Do you have any previous conditions?
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits all discriminatory hiring practices against people based on their race, age, religion, ethnicity, gender, or national origin. Contrary to popular belief, some employers still refuse to higher qualified candidates based on one of the previous listed factors. National origin is actually a protected class, according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Employers should effectively treat all applicants the same, as highlighted in the Griggs vs. Duke Power Co. Supreme Court case of 1971, where it was decided that it was unlawful to impose intelligence tests and similar educational requirements that specifically target minorities .
It is bad practice for employers to refer to an applicant’s background in any way that is defamatory or potentially manipulative during the interview. Questions concerning an applicant’s sexual orientation as well as their gender affiliation can be willingly disclosed by the applicant, but they are not legally obligated to disclose this, as well as any other highly sensitive and personal information. Additionally, employers can not ask anything about an applicant’s home life during an interview. For example, asking a candidate how many children they have may seem harmless, but it can lead to the employer having a gender bias towards that candidate. In fact, some employers may decline a female candidate who is more qualified than her male counterpart, simply because she has children. This can be attributed to a preconceived notion that women may not be as accessible or dedicated to their jobs, which is discriminatory.
According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers are not prohibited from asking about an applicant’s criminal history. However, it can be illegal if an employer is found to be actively discriminating against applicants based on their criminal convictions in conjunction with their race, age, gender, or national origin.
Some examples of illegal questions and remarks include:
1. Where are you from?
2. What are you?
3. How old are you?
4. Are you married?
5. Do you have any children?
7. How much do you make now? - (This depends on where you live. In Virginia, Employers should not ask, but voluntary disclosure is permitted after an offer has been made.)
Employers can ask:
1. What is you desired salary range?
2. Is there any reason you have been discharged?
3. Is there anything else you would like to share? (This is an open-ended question, and it is completely up to the discretion of the job applicant whether they want to disclose any further information.)
Note: Background checks are legal but require the consent of the applicant. They are usually conducted after a formal offer has been made. Background checks include important information about the applicant, including their educational and criminal background, DMV records, credit reports, and consumer reports. Make sure you read the background check disclaimer carefully before authorizing it.