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Friday February 7, 2014


During job interviews, employers attempt to gather as much information about a prospective employee as possible.  However, some of the questions the interviewer asks may actually be illegal.  Questions that ask a prospective employee to provide information about protected categories, such as national origin, citizenship, age, marital status, disabilities, race, gender, pregnancy status may well violate various federal and state discrimination laws, unless the question has a clear job-related basis. 

If the interviewer asks questions that directly relate to specific occupational qualifications, then the question may be appropriate.  While an interviewee should not lie, he or she could politely decline to answer an inappropriate question.  However, it must be recognized that the interviewee may be between a rock and a hard place:  he or she is seeking a job, and needs to satisfy the interviewer. 

Some questions which actually may well be illegal, or certainly inappropriate, include the following: 

Are you married?  Do you have children?  Questions that might be asked in an effort to determine job availability would include asking an interviewee what hours he or she would be available to work; whether the individual has responsibilities outside of work which might interfere with specific job requirements, such as traveling.

What country are you from?  Is English your first language?  Questions involving national origin are illegal.  The employer interviewer can ask what language(s) the interviewee reads, speaks or writes fluently. 

What religious holidays do you practice?  Questions about religion are illegal; however, an interviewer can ask a person if he or she is available to work on the weekends, if that is a job requirement. 

Have you ever been arrested?  Question about arrest are inappropriate; although an employer can ask an individual who has been convicted of a crime.  Of course, many jobs will require a criminal record check, which will indicate whether an individual has been arrested, and for what; whether an individual has been convicted of a crime or pled guilty to a crime. 

Do you have outstanding debt?  You always need to have an interviewee’s permission before asking about credit history.  Obviously, certain positions will require information about a person’s personal finances.  For example, if they will be handling large sums of money, and need to be bonded, financial information will be necessary.

Do you drink socially?  Might you drink alone?  A person’s drinking habits, generally, are protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act.  A recovering alcoholic or a person engaged in the treatment of alcoholism is protected under the Act.  Until there is an actual job offer, there can be no inquiry as to drinking.

When was the last time you used illegal drugs?  Again, the ADA would protect a person from such a question.  The ADA, however, does not protect a person who is currently using illegal drugs.  Thus, a job interviewer could ask a prospective employee whether he or she is currently using illegal drugs.  

There is a need to obtain and provide information during a job interview.  However, it is often as important how a question is asked, as what information is sought by way of the question.  The interviewer should avoid asking any interviewee about protected categories as relate to discrimination laws at a federal and state level.