You're sitting at a job interview when your interview asks a personal question that makes your heart stop: do you have to answer that question? Can the employer deny you a job based on your answer? Here's what you need to know.
Questions That Discriminate Based on a Protected Characteristic
In general, questions that tend to discriminate against candidates based on protected characteristics, like race, ancestry, religion, age, disability, sex/gender, sexual orientation, genetic information, or marital status, are illegal for an employer to ask in an interview. Learn more about protected characteristics here.
Moreover, any question that an employer only asks one group of people is illegal. For example, if an employer only asks women what their family plans are, it is discriminatory and is not allowed. Another example would be if an interviewer only asked older candidates when they intended to retire.
Examples of Questions That May Be Discriminatory
The following are examples of questions that are likely to be illegal because they address protected categories:
- Age (unless it’s a legal requirement for the job, e.g., serving alcohol)
- How old are you? When were you born? What’s your birthday? What year did you graduate high school/college? How long have you been working? How old are your children?
- Medical Conditions/Disability/Genetic Information
- Are you disabled? Do you have any medical conditions? How is your health? What happened to you/your body part? What medications do you take? Have you been diagnosed with anything? What have you been diagnosed with? Do you or your family have a history of disease?
- Gender/Sex/Sexual Orientation
- What gender do you identify as? What sexual orientation are you? Are you straight/gay? Are you transgender?
- Marital Status/Family/Pregnancy
- Are you married? What’s your maiden name? Are you pregnant? Do you have children? What’s your current childcare situation? Do you plan to have children/become pregnant/need maternity leave?
- Are you religious? What denomination are you? What religious holidays do you observe?
- What’s your race? What’s your ethnic background? What’s your nationality? Where are you from?
- Birthplace/Country of Origin/Citizenship
- What country are you from? Can you provide your passport? Can you provide your birth certificate? Where were you born? Where are your parents from? What is your native language? How did you learn to speak English?
Certain other interview questions tend to disadvantage minorities. When used in a way that discriminates against candidates based on their protected characteristics, the following questions are illegal:
- Criminal record
- Have you been arrested? Have you been convicted?
- Do you own a house/car? Do you rent a house/car? Do you have a bank account? Do you have debt? Have you ever declared bankruptcy?
- How much do you weigh? How tall are you?
- Employment status
- Are you currently unemployed?
- What fraternity/sorority were you in? Are you a member at the local country club/golf club?
- Can you work nights/after-school hours? (Could be considered asking about family/childcare.) Can you work weekends? (Could be considered asking about religion.)
What Should You Do If You’re Asked an Illegal Interview Question?
If you feel like your interviewer innocently asked the question to get to know you better or connect with you, feel free to answer the question to the extent you feel comfortable.
However, you do not have to answer an illegal interview question, and, legally, your interviewer cannot retaliate against you for your response (or lack thereof). Of course, it can be challenging to prove hiring discrimination - but taking notes or keeping records regarding the illegal questions you were asked is one of the best ways to do it.
Talk to an Experienced Employment Lawyer Today
At King & Siegel LLP, we have helped hundreds of workers hold employers accountable through legal actions. If you believe you have been illegally discriminated against in an interview, our attorneys are here to help.
Need legal help? We provide free, confidential consultations to California workers. You should contact us as soon as possible to make sure your claim is still within the time limits set by law. If you have experienced employment discrimination in an interview, contact us today through our website or give us a call at (213) 214-3757 to schedule a free consultation.