Illegal Interview Questions
by Tiffany Willis
When you go to a job interview, the hiring manager will ask various questions. Obviously, they are trying to get to know you as a person and see if you’ll be a good fit for their position. But there are some questions that can not legally be asked in an interview. In many cases, the interviewer just is not familiar with the law. In other cases, an interviewer may just be disregarding the law. But in either case, you need to be prepared for these questions and have a plan for how you will handle them.
Are you Married?
This is a question that is more often asked of women, but men face this challenge also. Employers ask about relationship status because they are usually trying to get a feel for your flexibility. Is this candidate willing to relocate if necessary? They may also be asking for your future plans for children. They may be thinking This is a young woman (or man) who may want children in the near future. Are we going to hire her only to have to lose her to pregnancy or caring for children.
What they can legally ask is “Are you willing to relocate?” or “Are there any hours or days that you can not work?" A suggested answer is to not answer the question directly but to say “I have a very flexible schedule and can work whatever hours are required of me.” Be sure to be direct and honest about when you can and can not work.
Do you have children?
Again, it seems that this question is more often asked of women, but men need to be aware also. If an interviewer asks you this question, what they are wondering is “Is this candidate going to be calling in because she has to care for sick children?” Or “Is this candidate going to be able to travel and work irregular hours if needed.” This question could also be disguised with "Do you have a family?"Again, look at the intent behind the question. A suggested answer would be to say “I don’t have anything that will keep me from fulfilling the job requirements.” If you can travel, add that. If not, be honest about it. If you are the primary caregiver of young children and can not travel, you need to know up-front if the job you’re applying for requires travel.
What is your race or ethnicity?
Interviewers are not allowed to ask where you were born or what your ethnicity is. What they can ask if you are legally authorized to work in the United States on a full-time basis. If you are asked about your race, color, religion or national origin, understand that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from making employment decisions based on these factors. If you are asked about your race, or an unusual name, or something about your dress or appearance that may indicate a specific ethnicity, a suggested way to handle this is by politely asking "Is this a question that's relevant to the position?"
How old are you?
People in the workforce are pushing back retirement age, either due to the financial need to continue working or the feeling of reward that comes from staying active in the workforce. As this happens, more and more people in the workplace are people who, in the past, were likely have been retirees. The good news is that interviewers are not allowed to ask you your age during an interview. The only age-related question they can legally ask is "Are you over the age of 18?" Keep in mind that the EEOC's Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 only protects workers who are 40 years old and older from age discrimination and in workplaces with 20 or more employees.
You have a few options on how to answer illegal questions.
- Just answer the question. If you don't mind providing the information, you can do so. Remember that you should only do this if you are comfortable with the information being out there. Whether intentional or not, giving the information can affect you getting the job.
- You can refuse to answer the question. It is your right to refuse to answer illegal questions. Simply saying "I'm not comfortable answering that" or using one of the suggested answers is advisable.
- Look at the intent behind the question. What do they really want to know? If you are flexible and able to travel? If you are asked if you have children, for example, you can say “If you are asking if I’ll be reliable or if I’m able to travel, the answer is yes." Help the employer by rephrasing their illegal question into a legal one. This will have the further benefit of demonstrating your poise and professionalism.
If in the end, you feel that your legal rights have been violated with the intent to use your answer as a basis for a hiring decision, you have the option of calling the EEOC. Laws can vary slightly by state, but the EEOC recommends that you file a charge of discrimination if you feel you have been discriminated against on the basis of the following:
- National origin
You can contact your local EEOC office. To find your local branch, go to the EEOC "Filing a Charge" website: www.eeoc.gov. There are time limits by which you must file a complaint and this information is available online or at your local EEOC office.
Illegal questions can add stress to an interview, but being informed will help you to maintain your confidence.
Guest blog by Tiffany Willis
Tiffany is a National Workforce Institute Certified Workforce Expert. She worked in the field of Workforce Development for 10 years with adult and youth job seekers. To stay on top of topics she discusses, subscribe to her public updates on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or connect with her via LinkedIn.