What sorts of interview questions does the law prevent potential employers from asking?
A job interview can be a stressful event when the applicant desperately wants the job and the interviewer realizes the situation. This is typically true for positions that pay well. Regardless of the dominant position that they hold in the process, employers are still generally restricted from asking personal questions that will impact employment with regard to job performance.
However, many human resources professionals understand how to craft or insert questions during an interview that are at least borderline illegal. In fact, many times, the questions are absolutely illegal. It is important for the applicant to know when the interviewer is violating the law, and it can also be good to realize earlier rather than later that this is not a desirable employer.
Disabled applicants are in a specific class of potential employees, and physical disabilities are often obvious. An employer can ask questions regarding a disabled individual's ability to perform job duties, but the interviewer cannot deny employment if a position is open and the applicant can reasonably perform the job tasks.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, an employer cannot ask any questions that would reveal a disability before offering a position, but the applicant can still be required to take a physical examination that would determine their actual ability to perform job duties. Employers can then make a decision based on specific ability, and they are not required to hire the applicant. All other question restrictions that apply to typical applicants are also in force for disabled individuals.
Common Illegal Questions
There are some questions an interviewer may have that are generally answered by physical presence. Age is one of those attributes. A potential employer cannot ask an applicant's age or birth date unless it pertains to the position. Questions about race and religion are also legally unacceptable, as stipulated in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Women face a specific list of illegal questions related to marital status and plans to have children. Asking questions about a marital relationship can appear acceptable if it impacts job performance, but this is actually an illegal question because it could indicate sexual preference. In addition, asking about future plans and the family dynamic is normally illegal.
Illegal Application Questions
One of the biggest red flags that an application contains illegal questions is when the company will not allow the application to be taken from the human resources office. Illegality is almost always the reason. All questions outlawed in the interview process are also illegal on an application.
Initial questions regarding health are illegal, as well as questions concerning garnishments and credit history. While most job applicants accept criminal history questions as legal and standard, criminal history questions are only legal when the conviction impacts the applicant's ability to perform the job tasks.
It is true that illegal questions are asked regularly in practically all job interviews. The questions are controlled by the employing human resources professional, who is trained in extracting information without asking direct questions. Additionally, most employers hire applicants on an interim basis before making them full-time, permanent employees. In the "at will" employment system used in the United States, employers have carte blanche authority to manage their business.
Employers may not be able to deny employment because of the color of the applicant's skin, but they can deny employment based on the color of the applicant's hair. One of the keys to acquiring employment is knowing how to tactfully refuse to answer illegal questions.