During a job interview, employers are allowed to ask any number of questions relating to a person’s qualifications for the job. This does not mean they can ask any question whatsoever of a job applicant, nor can they require an applicant to answer questions which are illegal. Illegal interview questions can be those that relate to one’s age, race, gender, national origin, marital status, or religion.
While questions relating to these subjects aren’t explicitly illegal, they can imply an illegal motive – to discriminate. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. For this reason, questions that have discriminatory implications based on any protected category which leads to an employer denying you employment is illegal.
What are Some Questions Employers Should Not Ask?
Below are questions that employers should never ask:
- Are you pregnant?
- What is your religious affiliation?
- What religious holidays will you need off?
- What is your political affiliation?
- What is your race/ethnicity?
- Where were you born?
- How old are you?
- Do you have any disabilities?
- Are you married?
- Do you have any children or do you plan to?
- How old are your children?
- Are you a U.S. citizen?
- Have you experienced any serious illnesses in the past year?
These questions can be considered illegal.
How Should I Respond to an Illegal Interview Question?
If you are asked an illegal question during an interview, you basically have two options:
- Answer the Question: Let’s say the employer mentions that he gets in to work at 9 A.M. after she drops off her children at elementary school, and you also mention you have children yourself. The employer asks you how old your children are, and you believe the question is innocuous and you don’t mind answering. In this instance and in others where you feel like the question is not asked for a discriminatory purpose, you can always answer the question. Notwithstanding, be mindful that you may not get the job based on your answer, even though it’s illegal to deny someone employment based on her response to an illegal question.
- Refuse to Answer: Some interview questions are not harmless and have a discriminatory motive. For example, if you’re interviewing for a time-consuming position that requires extra hours during the holidays, and you are pregnant and due in January, an employer who asks whether you’re pregnant may be trying to determine your availability for the upcoming holiday season. For this reason, it is wise to tell the interviewer that you believe the question is inappropriate and has no bearing on your ability to complete the job at hand. You have the right to decline to answer, but do so tactfully so as not to seem confrontational or difficult.
What are My Legal Rights if Denied Employment Based on Illegal Questions?
If you believe that you are denied employment based on your response to an illegal interview question, you may wish to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
You need to file a charge within 180 calendar days from the alleged discrimination. The Commission will investigate your claim, which takes approximately 10 months. If the EEOC isn’t able to determine whether the law was violated, they will send you a Notice of Right to Sue, which gives you the right to file suit in court. If the EEOC determines the law may have been violated, they will try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer.
Should I Contact an Attorney if I Am Asked an Illegal Interview Question?
If you believe you have suffered employment discrimination, you may wish to contact an attorney about the best course of an action. An employment attorney can help evaluate your chances of prevailing and will represent you throughout litigation.