What Employers Can't Ask You During Job Interviews

What Employers Can’t Ask You During Job Interviews

If you’re like many people, you know that workers in the U.S. have rights – but are you aware that you have rights before you even have a job? Under federal law, employers are not allowed to discriminate in the hiring process, and there are some questions they just can’t ask prospective candidates. This guide explains.

What Employers Can’t Ask You During Job Interviews

Employers should avoid interview questions that relate to protected classes by federal and state discrimination laws. Before diving into those questions, you should know that federally and in the state of California, these are the protected classes of people:

  • Age
  • Ancestry
  • Color
  • Disability, both mental and physical
  • Gender identity and gender expression
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Medical condition, including genetic characteristics and cancer (or a record or history of cancer)
  • Military or veteran status
  • National origin, including language use
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex and gender, which includes pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and all related medical concerns
  • Sexual orientation

With all those classes in mind, you need to know that employers should avoid any interview questions that may make it appear that they are – or that they’re going to or could – discriminate against a job candidate. However, simply asking a question doesn’t mean that the employer is being discriminatory; proving a discrimination case is more complex than that.

Illegal Questions That Employers Can’t Ask

Generally, an employer cannot directly ask you questions about your religion, color, marital status or anything else that relates to your possible membership in a protected class. For example, it would most likely be unlawful for an employer to ask you, “What country are you from?” or “Are you married? Is your spouse a man?”

But note that we said it’s generally unlawful. If an employer has a genuine, bona fide business need to learn certain information about you, it may be okay for an interviewer to ask you questions related to your potential membership in a protected class. For example, if a counseling center is hiring a person with experience gaining asylum in the U.S. from Syria, it’s likely okay to ask if you’re of Syrian descent and you gained asylum in the United States as a result. The key here is that the employer has to have a valid business reason for asking you the question.

Examples of Illegal Interview Questions

Check out these examples of illegal interview questions:

  • What year did you graduate high school?
  • When were you born?
  • Are you a U.S. citizen?
  • How did you learn Spanish?
  • Have you ever had a workplace injury?
  • Are you disabled?
  • What’s your sexual orientation?
  • Have you had transition surgery or treatments?
  • Do you have children?
  • Are you single?
  • What’s your ethnic background?
  • Are you religious?
  • Who’s your pastor?

There is some gray area in what employers can ask you, though, and some questions that don’t seem discriminatory on the surface actually are – or they could be used for discriminatory reasons. For example, if you walk into an interview and the interviewer notices you limping, they may ask, “Are you okay? Do you need to reschedule the interview because of your injury?” That question opens up the door to a disability conversation; if you respond, “No, I’ve limped all my life. It doesn’t hold me back,” and the employer chooses not to hire you because of your limp, that’s discrimination. (If the employer chooses not to hire you because you don’t have the required experience to perform the job, or for some other legally valid reason, that’s another story.)

Remember, the main key is that the employer must have a valid business reason for asking you a question that may seem sketchy. If not, it could be engaging in discriminatory hiring practices.

Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About Employment Interview Discrimination?

If you suspect that a prospective employer has discriminated against you based on your membership in a protected class, we may be able to help you. Call us at 818-230-8380 or fill out the form below to learn more.


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