Illegal Job Interview Questions

Illegal Job Interview Questions

There are some things employers aren’t allowed to ask you during a job interview – but what if they do it anyway? This guide explains.

Illegal Job Interview Questions

There are a number of questions employers aren’t allowed to ask you during a job interview. In fact, asking some of these questions could get an employer into serious hot water, resulting in hefty fines and a number of other penalties.

In the grand scheme of things, employers can ask you almost anything – even things that might make you uncomfortable, like “Why did you dislike your last job?” and “Who was the worst person you ever worked with?” They can ask questions about your favorite animal, why you quit (or were fired from) your last job, and even whether you like dogs. However, they can’t ask anything about your:

  • Age
  • Birthplace, country of origin or citizenship
  • Disability
  • Gender, sex or sexual orientation
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status, family status or pregnancy status
  • Race, ethnicity or color
  • Religion

However, there are a few exceptions that make it okay – or even necessary – for an employer to ask you questions relating to these topics (more on those later). And you may find that some employers ask you roundabout questions in an attempt to get answers – but that may also be illegal, depending on the circumstances.

It’s important to note that these questions are prohibited on job applications as well as in interviews.

Illegal Job Interview Questions About Age

Thanks to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, employers are not allowed to ask questions such as:

  • What’s your birth date?
  • When were you born?
  • How old are you?
  • When did you graduate from high school?
  • When did you start school?

However, if age is a legal requirement for the job, employers are permitted to ask. For example, if you must be old enough to serve liquor in a bar, the employer may ask you your age.

Related: What every worker over 40 needs to know

Illegal Job Interview Questions About Birthplace, Country of Origin or Citizenship

Generally, employers aren’t allowed to ask questions about a person’s birthplace, country of origin or citizenship, provided that the applicant’s paperwork shows they are legally allowed to work in the United States. Some examples of unlawful questions include:

  • Are you a United States citizen?
  • How did you learn that language?
  • Are your parents from the United States?

Employers are legally permitted to ask whether you’re legally allowed to work in the United States, as well as whether you can read, write and speak in English. Employers may also say that they will require proof of your authorization to work if they hire you.

Related: Does your immigration status affect your workplace rights in California?

Illegal Job Interview Questions About Disability

Usually, questions about disabilities are off limits for employers. They are only allowed to ask whether you can perform the tasks and functions related to the job. They may not ask you questions such as:

  • Have you ever filed a workers compensation claim?
  • Are you disabled?
  • Have you ever suffered an injury in the workplace?
  • Do you have any medical conditions that would prevent you from performing this job?

Related: What is disability discrimination?

Illegal Job Interview Questions About Gender, Sex or Sexual Orientation

Employers are only permitted to ask you about your gender, sex or sexual orientation if it is a bona fide occupational qualification. That means you cannot perform the job unless you give the right answer to the question. for example, a women’s shelter may choose to only hire women to make the people who use their services feel safe. In a situation like that, it’s perfectly fine for the employer to ask you these types of questions. However, employers cannot ask you:

  • What’s your sex?
  • What’s your gender?
  • How do you identify?
  • What’s your sexual orientation?
  • Are you male or female?

Related: Gender identity and gender expression discrimination in California

Illegal Job Interview Questions About Marital Status, Family Status or Pregnancy Status

Employers aren’t allowed to ask about your family or family status, including whether you’re pregnant or have child care. For example, it’s illegal for an employer to ask you:

  • Are you single?
  • Are you married?
  • Do you have children?
  • How many children do you have?
  • What’s your marital status?

Related: Pregnancy discrimination laws in California

Illegal Job Interview Questions About Race, Ethnicity or Color

In some cases, employers need to ask about a person’s race for affirmative action programs. However, it’s usually forbidden for employers to ask anything that has to do with your race, color, ethnic background or nationality.

Related: What to know about racial discrimination at work

Illegal Job Interview Questions About Religion

Employers may not ask you about your religion – except in one case: when the employer is a religious organization. religious organizations are permitted to work only with people who share similar beliefs. For example, a Catholic church can refuse to hire an atheist Sunday school teacher. Some examples of off-limits questions for all other employers include:

  • Are you religious?
  • What religion do you belong to?
  • What denomination do you belong to?
  • Do you go to church?
  • Where do you go to church?

Related: Religious discrimination in the workplace

What if an Employer Asks You Any of These Questions During a Job Interview or on an Application?

First things first: you always have the right to refuse to answer questions period that’s true whether the questions are unlawful, they make you uncomfortable, or you simply don’t know the answer. However, you need to know that refusing to answer questions could cost you the chance at the job. But when questions are unlawful, you absolutely shouldn’t answer them. In fact, you may want to speak to an attorney about your options after being asked illegal questions during an interview.

Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer About Missing Out on a Job Opportunity Due to Illegal Questions?

If an employer has asked you unlawful interview questions and it cost you a job, you may wish to speak to an attorney about your situation. Call our office at 818-230-8380 or fill out the form below to schedule a consultation with an experienced attorney now.



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