If you’re like many people, you know that there are some interview questions that are off-limits – employers simply aren’t allowed to ask them. However, that doesn’t mean that employers won’t ask them; it just means they’re not supposed to. So what should you do if an employer asks you an illegal question (or two) during an interview? This guide explains.
What Should You Do if an Employer Asks You Illegal Questions During an Interview?
“How old are you?” “When did you graduate high school?” “Are you married?”
All of these – and several others – are unlawful interview questions. Employers aren’t allowed to ask them because they could lead to discrimination. In fact, employers are really only allowed to ask you questions that pertain to the job, such as those about your experience and work skills.
Note: In some cases, employers can ask you questions that seem like they may be discriminatory, but we cover those in a later section.
The following table outlines a few illegal questions and their lawful alternatives. Though this isn’t a comprehensive list, it can give you a look at how innocent many questions seem – and even if an employer doesn’t mean anything by asking, they could be violating your rights as an applicant.
|Illegal Questions||Lawful Questions|
|Where do you live?||Will you have transportation to and from work? Will you consider relocating for this job? Can you be here at 9 a.m. every morning?|
|Do you use drugs, or have you used them in the past?||Are you comfortable taking a drug test?|
|How old are you?||Are you legally allowed to perform this job? Can you physically perform all the tasks associated with this job?|
|Are you a native English speaker?||What languages can you speak fluently? Can you rate your communication skills?|
|Do you have (or plan to have) kids?||Will you be able to work overtime if asked? How does this job fit into your goals for your career?|
|Have you ever been arrested?||Were you ever disciplined for violating a company policy at a previous job?|
When Can Employers Ask You Discriminatory Questions?
Sometimes questions that are ordinarily off-limits are actually legal. If an employer has a bona fide (genuine) business need to ask you a question, it may be okay. For example, you must be over the age of 21 to serve alcohol in a bar in California; it’s okay for an employer to ask if you’re old enough to serve alcohol in that case, because they’ll get into serious legal trouble if you’re under that age. (And for the record, you only have to be 18 if the restaurant is a “bona fide eating place,” which is a fancy way to say restaurant that serves more food than alcohol.)
What to Do if an Interviewer Asks You an Illegal Question
When you are in an interview, you’re under no obligation to answer any of the employer’s questions. However, failing to answer could result in you not getting the job. If an employer asks you an illegal question, or one that seems illegal, you may wish to point it out on the spot. Keep in mind that some interviewers simply don’t know a question is illegal. If you choose to point out an unlawful question, remain professional and use a neutral tone; simply tell the employer that you’re not comfortable providing an answer to that question and ask if you can move on.
Do You Have Legal Options After Being Asked Illegal Questions?
Though you can’t sue an employer for asking you an unlawful question, being asked illegal questions can lead to evidence of discrimination. For example, if an employer asks you about your age, sex, race, national origin, religion, disability, or genetic information, and you suspect that you weren’t hired because of your answers (or lack of answers) to those questions, you may want to talk to an attorney about your options.
Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer About Illegal Interview Questions?
If you need to speak to an attorney about being asked illegal interview questions, we’re here to help. Call us at 818-230-8380 or fill out the form below. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and point you in the right direction.