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Job Interview Legal Boundaries

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What are Job Interview Legal Boundaries?

Typically, all prospective employees go through a job interview. In conducting an interview, an employer must comply with all federal and state regulations prohibiting any discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin or disability.

What Can be Discussed at a Job Interview?

An interviewer can ask an applicant about anything that is relevant to the position being sought. Any questions which are irrelevant to the position may be barred by law and may be discriminatory if the applicant ends up not being hired.

What Cannot be Discussed at a Job Interview?

If the subject is of a personal nature to the employee and does not really pertain to the duties of the job, then the interviewer should not ask about it. Subjects that are generally inappropriate include:

  • Personal finances
  • Children or personal family life
  • Passwords, even for social media such as Facebook
  • Sexual orientation and activity
  • Political affiliations
  • Religious affiliations
  • Medical history (unless relevant to the position)
  • Drug usage (although asking for applicant to submit to a drug test is fine)

Even though the interviewer cannot bring up certain subjects, the applicant can bring up any subject he wishes without making the employer liable for discrimination. However, the employer should not dwell or linger on the subject too long, as doing so may lead to the employer asking illegal questions. 

What Are the Restrictions on an Interviewer for Asking Questions Dealing with Personal Subjects that May Be Work-Related?

Again, the general rule is that any questions asked must deal with the ability of the applicant to perform the tasks of the job. Anything that is considered beyond that could be considered discriminatory. An employer can describe the demands of the position and then ask if the applicant is able to meet those demands, but an employer cannot ask if an applicant is disabled. The interviewer need only know whether or not the applicant can perform the job, not the exact reasons why the applicant cannot perform the job.

For example, “What is your native language?” is illegal. “What languages can you speak?” is perfectly fine. The distinction is that the former hints at national origin while the latter is a question about useful skills to the company. Likewise, asking “Will you continue to work after pregnancy?” is a highway to a discrimination lawsuit. Instead, many companies will ask “What are your long-term career goals?” 

What Should I Do if an Interviewer Asked Me Inappropriate Questions?

If you feel that you have been discriminated against, you may want to contact an employment lawyer. An experienced employment attorney can help you determine whether you can sue the employer. An employment lawyer can also help you file all the necessary paperwork and represent you in court.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 08-07-2013 03:10 PM PDT

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