Workplace discrimination is against the law in the United States. You cannot be fired for being too old, demoted for being too sexy or punished for being too dark skinned. These rules apply not only to jobs that you have, but also the jobs that you are applying for. Interviewers are not allowed to ask questions about your personal life that may contribute to discrimination in your job search.
Some of these questions are obvious. Hiring managers cannot ask you if you think being a woman will prevent you from doing your role, or whether you have osteoporosis due to your advanced age. These are very clearly against the law. However, there are some illegal job interview questions that may seem at first glance to be acceptable, but in truth are considered illegal.
Illegal Interview Questions
- How Long Have You Lived in the Area?
You are not allowed to discriminate based on residency. If the job is in Seattle, but the applicant currently lives in Miami, you cannot avoid hiring them simply because they currently live far away. You are also not allowed to ask an applicant’s age, and that answer can be given away by length of residency. The employer is, however, allowed to ask you your address.
- Do You Have Any Kids?
An applicant’s family status is also not allowed to be on trial. You cannot be asked if you have or are planning to have children, regardless of how it will affect your ability to perform your duties.
- Do You Use Drugs?
Surprisingly, this question is against the law, but it is against the law for interesting reasons. Applicants are allowed to ask you if you take illegal drugs, but they are not allowed to ask you if you take drugs in general, because they are required by law not to ask interview questions about the status of your health.
- Are You Eligible to Be Called Into War?
Employers are not allowed to discriminate against those that may be called into military duty. They can ask you about your army experience because that acts as work history, but your future with the armed services is not up for debate.
- Tell Me About a Time You Experienced Discrimination in the Workplace
This one is tricky, but is ultimately illegal. Employers are not allowed to ask you about or highlight your race, age, health or gender, and if they ask you to tell a story about how you experienced discrimination, anything you tell them will give away these aspects of your personal life.
The Interview Questions are Illegal, the Answers Are Not
One thing to keep in mind throughout your job interview is that although the company can’t legally ask you about anything that could cause discrimination, they are more than welcome to listen to any answers that you tell them. So if the company asks you if you have won any awards, and you respond with “I won best Church choir chairman,” you have purposely chosen to supply the interviewer with your religion, and they are free to use that information as they please. Technically they cannot overlook your employment due to your religion, gender, etc., but they are allowed to claim you were not employed for other reasons.
Keep your personal life out of your answers, and know that employers are not allowed to ask you about them directly.
Take Away Interview Tips
- Any questions that may lead to discrimination are illegal.
- Any answers that may cause discrimination are not.