Five Illegal Questions for an Employer to Ask in a Job Interview

Interviewing for a new job can be somewhat intimidating. While most potential employers will ask some pretty standard questions about your work history, your skills, and what you’re looking for in an employment position, they may also ask some questions that cross the line into illegal territory. The thing is, many of these questions are so common that most people don’t actually recognize that the person they’re interviewing with just broke the law.

Here are five of these illegal interview questions as well as why they’re illegal.

“Have You Ever Been Arrested?”

This one surprises a lot of people because criminal histories and background checks are about as normal a part of a job interview process as asking you your name and for references. Nine out of ten companies will conduct a criminal history check on you, so how could asking this question be illegal?

Simple: employers are not allowed to ask you about your arrest history, but they are allowed to ask if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime. This is because arrests and convictions are not allowed to automatically disqualify you for a position, unless your arrest or conviction was for a charge that relates to the job you’re interviewing for (i.e. someone with a conviction for indecent exposure applying for a job as a children’s daycare supervisor).

“Are You Married?” or “Do You Have Children?”

These seem like pretty normal questions when getting to know someone. However, they are questions potential employers could use to learn information that they can’t ask because it may cause them to become biased for or against a candidate.

By asking whether or not someone is married, someone could reveal their sexual orientation, which is something employment laws strictly forbid discrimination towards. Likewise, whether or not someone has children can also risk revealing things like marital status or sexual orientation. Employers who wish to use these questions to determine how much time someone has to dedicate to the job may instead ask “How many hours are you willing to work?” or “Do you have any responsibilities that would interfere with the responsibilities of this position?”

“Do You Have Any Outstanding Debt?”

This is a rarer question that isn’t used as often unless someone’s credit history has a direct impact on their ability to fulfill the duties of the position. Employers are legally required to notify candidates if they need to check their credit history in this case, and employers are not allowed to check the credit history of candidates who don’t necessarily need good credit to fulfill the duties of the position.

However, some employers still try to ask this question to gauge how responsible an employee might be, particularly when it comes to working in the financial industry. Those with good credit are generally seen to be clearer thinkers and responsible, however that isn’t always the case, and it could unfairly bias an interviewer for or against a candidate.

“What Country Are You From?”

This may seem like a harmless question. After all, if you have an accent, your interviewer may be genuinely curious where you come from, and it may even be something the two of you can bond over. However, national origin is a protected characteristic that employers are not allowed to use to base hiring decisions, and thus they are not permitted to have candidates disclose that information. Similarly, employers are not allowed to ask “Is English your first language?” to determine where you come from. However, they can ask two different, but related questions: “Are you authorized to work in this country?” and “What other languages do you speak, read, or write fluently?” The latter question is particularly important if knowledge of another language is a key part of a position.

“Do You Socially Drink?”

Once again, this isn’t a question employers use very often, but it’s one that’s nonetheless strictly forbidden. While you might think it’s to gauge whether or not you can be trusted to behave yourself and not embarrass the company while acting in a professional manner, it could also reveal a disability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 changed practices so that you are not required to disclose any disability information until after landing an official job offer out of fear that disclosing the disability would unfairly bias employers against you. Recovering alcoholics and treatment for alcoholism are both protected under this act.

Have you been unfairly discriminated against in a job interview? Call White Law, PLLC today at (517) 316-1195 to learn more about your options!