Employment Law 8 Illegal Interview Questions To Avoid

It’s common knowledge that future employers can’t broach personal topic in job interviews but, the line between acceptable and illegal interview questions is oftentimes fuzzy.

The federal government prohibits employers from making hiring decisions on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, disability, veteran status, national origin, age, political affiliation and genetic information—meaning that those questions are automatically off the table for employers. Such topics as sexual orientation, gender identity and criminal background information comes with different rules, depending on the state. Employers who aren’t trained in correct interview procedures frequently cross the line without knowing it, say experts.

When asked an awkward question, try to keep your response light and friendly to avoid alienating your prospective employer or sabotaging your chances of landing the job. Here’s how to handle the most common illegal interview questions if you happen to be asked.

Do You Have Kids?

Questions about pregnancy, children and medical conditions related to giving birth are prohibited by federal law according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Though employers mat raise the question to make small talk, it’s wise to keep information about your home life private.

If you do get an illegal interview question, there are three ways to handle it says Jeffrey Weinstock, an attorney and president of Rhodes & Weinstock LLC, a staffing and placement company is Washington D.C. Interview candidates can answer and hope that their response doesn’t factor into the employer’s hiring decision. They can refuse to answer it which may end the interview prematurely. Or they can take door No.3.

“Answer the question that you think the interviewer was getting at,” says Weinstock. “If the question is, “Well do you have any children at home?” the interviewer may be trying to find out if there’s an issues with working overtime. You can say “Well my personal life is not going to prelude me from working any hour required.”

Didn’t See You At Church Last Week?

Religion is protected under federal law, so that any question that identifies a candidate as belonging to a certain religion or spiritual practice is illegal. That includes those who belong to religions with broad followers such as Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, as well as those smaller following such as Wicca and Rastafarianism.

Employer’s can’t ask about your religion directly but, they can ask interviewees are they available to work required work days, even if those days include certain religious holidays, says Mario Bordogna, a labor and employment attorney and partner with Steptoe & Johnson which is headquartered in Bridgeport W.Va.

“An employer has the right to reasonably expect that someone is going to be able to… come to work if it involves those types of holidays,” he says.

If asked a question about religion, candidates can simply say, “I prefer to keep my opinions on such things private.”

Do You Play Any Sports?

The boss is probably isn’t asking questions such as “Do you play any sports?” to ferret out information about your health, genes or disabilities but, it could be interpreted that way. While it’s legal for employer’s to ask if you are physically capable of completing job tasks, gather specific information on your endurance and abilities is a big no-no, says Weinstock.

“Under the (Americans with Disabilities Act), an employer is able to ask the question, “Are you able to perform the function with or without reasonable accommodation?” says Weinstock. “The candidate can answer the question that way, “Looking at all the job functions, I would be able to perform these job functions.”

You Have An Accent: Where Are You From?

An interviewer may be asking an icebreaker question—“Where are you from?”—to make the job candidates feel at ease, or he could be digging for something deeper such as candidate’s fluency in foreign language or work status.

“Really they are asking ‘Can you work legally in the United States, or do we need to get you an H-1B Visa?” says Daniel E. Martin, Ph.D. an associate professor of Management at California State University in East Bay in Hayward, Calif.

To counter questions about national origin, Martin suggest to redirecting the question to focus more on your ability to fit the company and legal requirements of the job.

“You can say, ‘I’ve been legally in the United States for a long time. I have all of my materials with me. I’d be happy to share it with your human resources department to get that processing going.” He adds.

Your Last Name Is Park: Is That Korean?

The overlap between questions about national origin and those about race and ethnicity is huge.

An employer may be asking about ethnicity in order increase company diversity, not to discriminate, says Jonathan Segal, an employment attorney and partner with the Employment, Labor, Benefits and Immigration Practice Group at Duane Morris LLP in Philadelphia.

If an ethnicity questions does pop up in an interview, Segal recommends addressing it head on by stating “It’s not really something we should be discussing,” and by redirecting the conversation to a more relevant topic such as your strengths, work ethic, and ability to fulfill duties.

Are You Honorably Discharged?

For many veteran skills gained by serving in the U.S. armed forces are the very reasons they may be qualified for a certain job after leaving the military. If educations and experience gained on duty are relevant to the job you’re applying for, employers may ask about it. What they can’t ask about was how you were discharged, though they may request that information after you are hired, report the Department of Labor.

Chances are the interview questions about the status of a military discharge probably won’t relate to the nature of the job responsibilities required. If you encounter an off topic question, Martin recommends using it as an opportunity to move the conversation back to questions you’re more comfortable with.

“If someone asks you a question that’s vague or strange or kind of irrelevant to the job, you want to take it as an opportunity to highlight your own expertise,” he says.

You’re My Age Right?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act allows employers to allow an age limitation in rare circumstances for jobs “Where age has proven to be a bona fide occupational qualification,” such as the Federal Aviation Administration rules that prohibits commercial pilots from flying over the age of 65. The law allows employers to favor older workers over younger one because of age but, prohibits from doing the reverse.

If a question of age pops up, Weinstock advises job candidate to frame the answer to reflect job experience.

“You can say something to the effect of “I would like to bring my background and experience to help you and your company where I believe my experience would be extremely helpful in this position,” he says “All the things that you list and you need I’ve done before.”

Are You Married?

An interviewer asking about material status could be making small talk, or could be trying to gain information on your family life or sexual orientation. No federal law prevents discriminating against a candidate because of gender identity or sexual orientation. However, Segal says approximately 20 states; several cities and many individual counties have their own protections. The District of Columbia does too.

Even though questions about sexual orientation aren’t directly prohibited under federal law Segal adds that asking them can still land employers in legal hot water.

“If you ask someone ‘What’s your sexual orientation?’ they may perceive it as their likelihood on having a potential disease based on stereotypes.” Segal says, ‘It’s a good idea for every employee to know what their rights are, to know what their state or local jurisdiction protects them.”

If asked a question about sexual orientation, Segal recommends that candidates ask if they can stick more to topics related to the job. To find out if this is an illegal interview question in your area, contact your state’s employment office.

Reference: Christina Couch, Bankrate.com

Filed Under: Employment Law; Illegal Interview Questions

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