7 Questions a Potential Employer Cannot Ask You

By Damian Davila on 4 May 2016 2 comments

It's taking U.S. companies longer and longer to hire new employees. In June 2014, it took an average of 24.9 work days for employers to fill vacant positions. The average hiring time for companies with 5,000 or more employees is even longer at 58.1 work days.

In the rush to fill vacancies faster, some employers are making some bad judgment calls. According to a 2014 poll conducted by Harris Poll, one in five U.S. employers has unknowingly asked an interview question that ran afoul of the law. Here are seven questions a prospective employer cannot ask you during an interview.

1. What Is Your Religious Affiliation?

Being concerned about whether or not you can meet the required work schedule for a position, some employers go the wrong way about finding out about your availability. While the Title VII Equal Employment Opportunities chapter of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn't provide a specific list of questions that "thou shalt not ask," it certainly provides clear guidelines as to what is off the negotiation table. So, it is illegal for an employer to ask you about your religion. While an employer can legally ask you if you can work on a required work schedule or select from a choice of work days, he can't inquire about your willingness to work any particular religious holiday.

2. Are You Pregnant?

Before hiring you, an employer can't ask you if you're pregnant, plan to have kids, or plan to have more kids. Any of these matters can directly or indirectly result in limitation of a job opportunity in any way, so that's why the Civil Rights Act takes them off the table as well. After hiring you, your employer or HR department rep can inquire on your status for qualified reasons, such as health insurance, retirement accounts, or tax withholding.

3. What Is Your Political Affiliation?

With the U.S. presidential election coming up in November, some interviewers may drop this one on you. Under the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, federal employers are prohibited from asking political party preference questions of federal employees and job applicants. This is to guarantee that all employees and job applicants receive fair and equitable treatment in all aspects of personnel management without regard to political affiliation.

While there are no federal laws that prohibit employers in the private sector from asking about political affiliation, they should refrain from asking such questions anyway. Some states, including Mississippi and the District of Columbia, have specific laws on employment-related discrimination that include political affiliation.

4. What Is Your Nationality?

Immigration is one of the key issues being discussed by candidates from both parties of this election. While an employer has every right to check that you can legally work for them, they can't ask any questions regarding your nationality.

During a prospective job interview, it's illegal to inquire where you were born, whether you were born a U.S. citizen or naturalized, your national origin, and what is your first language. Only when it's relevant to the job can you be asked about your language proficiency. After employment, you can be asked to submit a birth certificate, proof of U.S. citizenship, or other proof of the legal right to work in the U.S.

5. How Old Are You?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects job applicants who are age 40 and older against ageism, which is discrimination against individuals on the basis of their age. Any sneaky questions to try identifying persons between 40 and 60 years are illegal.

For those age 18 and over, some state employment laws, including those from Oregon, provide some protection with a few exceptions. Still, it's legal to inquire before hiring if you could furnish proof of age if hired, and to request such proof after hiring.

6. Are You Disabled?

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all types of federal employment. Since 1990, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in all job application and employment processes.

The definition of disabilities is quite extensive. For example, an employer can't legally ask you whether or not you socially drink. Under the ADA, a recovering alcoholic is protected and doesn't have to disclose any disability information before landing an official job offer.

7. What is Your Credit Rating?

You may have heard that your credit history may affect your employment options. However, there are limitations for employers to use credit information in employment decisions.

First, the Fair Credit Reporting Act outlines that employers require your written consent to get access to your credit report. The one exception is the trucking industry. Your potential employer must have a valid reason to request for your credit data and she can't disqualify you from employment unless the data directly affects your ability to perform the position you're interviewing for. In the event that she denies you employment, she must release the credit report to you and provide an explanation.

Second, 10 states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, have enacted legislation that bans employers from using credit information in employment decisions. If you're seeking employment in one of those states, potential employers can't ask for your credit history or score.

What are other questions that a prospective employer can't ask you? Share with us in the comments!

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Guest's picture
kathny

#5 is ridiculous. Every job application asks what year you graduated from high school. It's not hard to do the math. Call it a loophole...

Damian Davila's picture

Unless knowing the year that you graduate from high school is part of one of the requirements for the job, you're not required to answer such a question. To deflect such a question, you could ask: "Are you asking this for a particular reason that I should be aware of? I want to be in-tune with every job requirement."

Guest's picture
Guest

what are the ramifications if a potential employer is asking any of these questions??
or is an employer asking these questions simply a red flag to warn you that the emploer might not be worth working for

Damian Davila's picture

It may land the potential employer a lawsuit. If a job applicant believes that he or she has been discriminated against during the hiring process because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information, he or she can file a Charge of Discrimination through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). For more information on Prohibited Employment Policies/Practices, read http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/practices.

Whether intentional or unintentional, the improper handling of the hiring process can provide you an insight as to the level of care of the employer into other processes.