December 9, 2022

5 Common Interview Questions That Are Actually Illegal

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Unfortunately, employment lawyers see businesses violating applicant and employee rights on a regular basis. One of the most common ways this occurs is when an interviewer — either knowingly or unknowingly — asks questions that are discriminatory in nature. Below are a few frequently asked interview questions employment lawyers wish more interviewers and interviewees alike knew were illegal, along with some closely related questions that are fair game.

  • Illegal: How Old Are You?
    Legal: Can You Legally Perform This Job?

    Businesses are not allowed to discriminate in hiring based on age. And although federal law only protects older workers (above 40), many states have more stringent laws that protect younger workers too. A prospective employer can ask if the applicant is old enough to perform a job according to employment laws.

  • Illegal: Where Are You From?
    Legal: Are You Eligible to Work in the United States?

    It’s illegal to discriminate based on national origin, so an interviewer cannot ask where a job seeker is from (even if that’s just to comment on an accent). The legal alternative to this question is simply asking whether the applicant can legally work in the United States.

  • Illegal: Do You Have or Plan to Have Children?
    Legal: Do You Have Commitments That Would Interfere With Work Hours?

    Pregnancy discrimination is a tricky issue, but it’s inappropriate for an interviewer to ask an applicant if he or she has children, or ask a woman if she plans to become pregnant. Since dedication to the job is usually the issue behind this question, an employer should instead directly ask if the applicant would have trouble committing to long hours, overtime, etc.

  • Illegal: What Religion Do You Ascribe To?
    Legal: Can You Work Weekends and Holidays?

    Businesses cannot discriminate based on an applicant’s religion (either positively or negatively). If an interviewer is concerned about commitments interfering with the job schedule, he or she may ask if weekend or holiday work would pose a problem.

  • Illegal: Have You Ever Been Arrested?
    Legal: Do You Have Any Felony Convictions?

    An applicant needn’t be an employment lawyer to know that in the U.S., people are considered innocent until proven guilty. That means an employer may not ask about arrests, but may weigh felony convictions in deliberations according to a specific set of guidelines.

Workers should also keep in mind that if they’re hired and then let go because of these illegal questions (or the issues behind them), they may want to contact wrongful dismissal lawyers and seek to either regain the job or be compensated. In addition to investigating wrongful termination lawyers, employees should check with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is tasked with investigating discrimination in the workplace.

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