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Dealing with Illegal Interview Questions

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Employment laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace apply to the job hiring process as well, such as the interview phase. As a result, interview questions that probe race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, age, marital status, family situation or disabilities, are potentially evidence of illegal discrimination.

Many interviewers are not familiar enough with the law to know when they have asked questions that risk discrimination charges.

However, some will knowingly ask so-called illegal interview questions, while reasoning that they are protected by a job candidate's desire to land a job.

In either case, answering and otherwise dealing with illegal interview questions is delicate. The remainder of this article helps you to know what your interviewer may ask, what he or she shouldn't ask, and what to do if he or she asks anyway.

Illegal Interview Questions about Race

It is illegal under the Civil Rights Act for employers to discriminate on the basis of race.

What is your skin color?
What is your race?
Is your spouse Caucasian/Hispanic/African American/Asian, etc?

Exceptions: There are no fair questions about race in an interview or application, but an employer may ask you to voluntarily indicate your race for affirmative action programs.

Illegal Interview Questions about National Origin

It is also illegal under the Civil Rights Act for employers to discriminate on the basis of national origin.

You sound like you have an accent; where are you from?
Where were you born?
Are you an American citizen?

Exceptions: Employers are required to hire only those employees who may legally work in the United States. For that reason, employers may ask if you are eligible to work in the United States.

Illegal Interview Questions about Age

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects workers over age 40 from age discrimination

When were you born?
When did you graduate from high school?
How old are you?

Exceptions: The act does not prohibit interviewers from posing questions about age, but does prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, unless age directly affects the job. For example, an employer may rightfully inquire whether or not a job candidate meets the minimum federal age requirement for employment under child-labor law.

Illegal Interview Questions about Genetic Information

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) makes it illegal for interviewers to discriminate against job applicants on the basis of genetic information.

Have you ever been genetically tested for a predisposition to an illness or disease?
Are there any illnesses or diseases in your family's medical history that might make you miss work?

Exceptions: It is never appropriate for an interviewer who is bound by GINA, to ask a job applicant about his or her genetic information in order to make a hiring decision.

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