Questions Employers Aren’t Allowed to Ask in a Job Interview

November 24, 2017

If you’re on a job interview and you’re being asked questions that are making you uncomfortable, it may be more than just a bad interview. Certain questions are illegal, and an interviewer is prohibited from asking them either directly or indirectly.

Interviewers are usually trained in which questions they can ask and which they can’t. But a particularly aggressive or untrained interviewer might step over the line and ask prohibited questions. If they do, you’re not required to answer them.

Examples of questions employers aren’t allowed to ask in a job interview include the following.

Your Age, or Any Questions that Lead in that Direction

Since there are laws against age discrimination, an interviewer is not allowed to ask your age. They also can’t ask any questions that might force you to disclose your age, such as when you graduated from high school and college.

Of course, we all know that when you complete the job application, it’s likely that you already disclosed that information in one form or another. As well, an interviewer can ask you to disclose your employment history, which will provide at least a rough idea as to what your age is.

Marriage and Family Status

Not only can an interviewer not to ask you about your marital status, but they also can’t ask you about your intentions in that direction. Along the same line, they’re not allowed to ask leading questions either. For example, an interviewer is not allowed to ask you what your spouse does for a living. They’re not even allowed to ask you if you’re living with your spouse since there are different living arrangements that must be respected.

Nor are they allowed to ask you about children. That also includes not being allowed to ask about your intentions about having children in the future. The historic interview questions, if you were to become pregnant, would you return to work? (Or, how soon would you return to work? are off-limits.

Questions Related to Gender

An interviewer will know what your gender is, but they aren’t allowed to ask gender-related questions. A once common interview question, Can you work with (or supervise) the opposite gender? is a prohibited question.

Questions About Race, Religion or Politics

It’s not likely that an interviewer will come out and ask you a direct question on any these topics. But there are different ways that he or she might attempt to back into an issue discreetly.

For example, the interviewer may ask you a general question about your activities outside of work. While this question might be aimed at determining the number of distractions that you have that might interfere with your job, it could also be an attempt to identify activities related to race, religion or politics.

A skilled interviewer may ask you what clubs or associations you belong to. If they do, you’re not required to provide an answer, as it may be an attempt to limit your candidacy based on race, religion or politics.

Similarly, an interviewer cannot ask you questions that might point to ethnicity, such as where your parents or grandparents originate from, or where your accent or dialect came from. Any such questions could be construed as a question about race and is therefore off-limits.

Questions About Your Physical Characteristics

An employer is not allowed to ask questions about your physical characteristics, but they are entitled to know if you are capable of meeting the physical requirements of the job in question.

For example, if the position requires your ability to stand for long periods of time, or to lift packages that are say, 20 pounds or less, the interviewer can only ask you if you are capable. But they cannot ask specific questions related to your height and weight.

Credit Issues

An interviewer is not allowed to ask you about the condition of your credit, or even of the amount of debt that you owe. However, in most job application situations, an employer will run a credit report on you so that this information will be available. But the credit report is normally ordered later in the process, even after a job offer has been made.

There are certain job classifications where you could be denied a job based on poor credit. This typically would include positions that require handling of money or sensitive financial transactions.

Your Medical History

An interviewer can’t ask questions about your physical condition, previous medical history, disability, or any therapies you are currently receiving. They can’t even ask you how many sick days you have taken on your current or previous jobs.

Previous Arrests

An interviewer or employer can ask you if you have ever been convicted of a crime. They will, of course, find out since nearly every employer does a criminal background check. But they can’t ask you if you’ve ever been arrested. That’s because an arrest is not a criminal conviction, and doesn’t always lead to one.

Certain Questions Related to Military Service

An employer may ultimately order a copy of your military records, including discharge papers. But they are not allowed to ask certain questions in a job interview. They are not allowed to ask if you have been dishonorably discharged. They are also not allowed to ask if you are in the National Guard or reserve services.

Believe it or not – They Can’t Ask if You Smoke or Drink

These are considered personal habits that you partake of in your personal time, and does not relate to the job. However, an interviewer can ask you if you’ve ever been reprimanded for violating an employer’s rules by smoking or drinking on the job.

Regarding drug usage, an employer is not allowed to ask you if you take prescription medications. However, they are allowed to ask you if you use illegal drugs. And of course, in many cases an employer will require drug testing, so even that question might be irrelevant even if it is illegal.

The specific legality of any of the above questions is based on the state you live in. But most of these questions will be prohibited in most states, or under federal law.

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