According to a 2015 study from CareerBuilder, 20 percent of hiring managers and recruiters have asked illegal interview questions in a job interview, only to find out later that it was illegal to ask. Even if you don’t have ill-intent, but you could still be putting yourself at risk for potential legal action, as a job applicant could argue that certain questions were used to discriminate against him or her.
“Even trained hiring managers tend to ask illegal interview questions,” says Priscilla Cabello, a labor and employment attorney in Atlanta.
Any questions based on age, race, national origin, citizenship, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, pregnancy status, disabilities, military discharge status, or arrest and conviction record are illegal.
“A few years ago, I needed a summer job, so I applied for a part-time job at the local mall,” recalls Julia Williams from Botswana, Africa. “During the interview, I got told that I can’t possibly be from Botswana because I’m white and I spoke good English. I was flabbergasted - English the official language of Botswana, and there are plenty of white people in Africa,” Julia now works as a PR manager in Waterford, Ireland.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.” Then there’s the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.
Peter K Studner, author of Super Job Search IV: The Complete Manual for Job Seekers & Career Changers, often interviewers and interviewees don’t realize that certain job interview questions could land you in serious trouble with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). To help hiring managers and recruiters, here are illegal job interview questions you must avoid asking.
Illegal interview questions you can’t ask in an interview:
How old are you?
Several states in the United States have laws that prohibit age discrimination against younger employees. Similarly, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects workers over the age of forty.
GENDER OR SEX
What’s your sexual preference?
Are you comfortable with supervising men/women?
As a single mother, what childcare arrangements do you have?
Discriminatory questions related to gender are a big NO. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, discrimination on the basis of gender identity as well as transgender status violates the sex discrimination provisions of Title VII. Moreover, several states in the United States prohibit discrimination bias from gender identity.
MARITAL OR FAMILY STATUS OR PREGNANCY
Are you planning to get married or are you married?
What is your maiden name?
How will your significant other feel about the amount of time you will be traveling if you take this job?
Are you going to have kids?
Are you pregnant?
Questions related to the job applicant’s family are off-limited. They suggest that a female applicant or a single parent will not be fully available for work due to other responsibilities. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits bias on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or similar medical conditions. The Family and Medical Leave Act prohibits discrimination against parents and pregnant women who take leave from work to take care of a newborn baby, sick family member, or an aging parent. Similarly, the Family Responsibilities Discrimination protects job candidates against employers who don’t hire because they have to take care of a sick family member.
COUNTRY OF NATIONAL ORIGIN OR BIRTH PLACE
Where are you from originally?
Are you a native English speaker?
What is your citizen status?
It is okay to ask if a job candidate is legally eligible for employment in the U.S.; however, it is illegal to ask about the citizenship or national origin.
RACE, ETHNICITY OR COLOR
What religion do you practice and which religious holidays do you celebrate?
What church do you belong to?
How often do you call in sick?
Are you disabled?
What prescription drugs are you currently taking?
Have you ever been treated for mental health problems?
The American with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on a person’s disabilities.
OTHER OFF-LIMIT QUESTIONS
What is your political affiliation?
When do you plan to retire?
Have you got any outstanding debts?
Do you live nearby?
Have you ever been arrested?
What is the nature of your military discharge?
Use your better judgment to know if the candidate can perform his job responsibilities without distraction and be professional about it. Even if you’re in a comfortable setting asking job interview questions, make sure you don’t let the discussion turn into an impromptu chat session. This could easily happen especially when you take job applicants out for lunch or dinner. Even the most innocuous job interview questions are illegal. Rephrase the questions you ask a potential hire to ensure you don’t demonstrate a bias towards protected categories.
To job seekers, here’s one piece of advice: One must be able to spot red flags that could indicate you’re being asked illegal job interview questions that will highlight your strengths and weaknesses.