Can You Tell Which Of These Job Interview Questions Are Illegal?

Waiting for a job interviewShutterstockJob candidates wait to be interviewed.

Job interviews are stressful and difficult, even when employers are following the law.

But many seemingly innocuous and common interview questions, like “Do you have any kids?” can be illegal or put you at risk of being discriminated against.

While every state has different laws regarding job interviews — some specifically prohibit certain questions, while others merely prohibit discrimination based on their answers — it’s important to be on your toes and know what employers can and can’t do.

'Have you ever been convicted of a crime?'

A) Always illegal.

B) Could be illegal.

C) Never illegal.

B) Could be illegal (depends on the state).

Some states prohibit employers from asking about applicants' criminal history unless the crime is directly related to the job they are interviewing for.

'Are you married?'

A) Always illegal.

B) Could be illegal.

C) Never illegal.

B) Could be illegal (but it's never appropriate).

Some states, like New York, explicitly ban questions about marital status during the interview process.

In states where the question is not explicitly prohibited, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which brings lawsuits against employers on behalf of workers, still advises against it because marital status is often used to discriminate against female employees, which violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

'What languages do you speak?'

A) Always illegal.

B) Could be illegal.

C) Never illegal.

C) Never illegal.

Knowing what languages a candidate is proficient in is useful information for just about any job.

Where employers can go wrong is by asking what a person's first language is, which can be construed as asking their nation of origin.

'Do you believe in God?'

A) Always illegal.

B) Could be illegal.

C) Never illegal.

B) Could be illegal (and always a bad idea).

Some states outlaw this question completely. In others, it can get employers in hot water because religious discrimination is illegal across the U.S.

The federal government doesn't specifically forbid questions about religion, but those questions could be used as evidence of intent to discriminate, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

'Where are you from?'

A) Always illegal.

B) Could be illegal.

C) Never illegal.

B) Could be illegal (and never a smart thing to do).

While it varies state to state whether you can ask this question, doing so could be conceived as being another way of asking about someone's nationality. And discriminating based on nationality is illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

'Do you drink alcohol?'

A) Always illegal.

B) Could be illegal.

C) Never illegal.

C) Never illegal (but be careful).

Asking about alcohol is tricky. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that it is ok to simply ask whether a person drinks alcohol.

However, asking a question about alcohol that is likely to reveal whether someone is an alcoholic, like, 'How often do you drink?' and 'Have you ever attended an alcohol abuse class?' could show that the employer is discriminating against alcoholics.

Doing so would be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which classifies alcoholism as a disability.

'How old are you?'

A) Always illegal.

B) Could be illegal.

C) Never illegal.

Now that you know which questions are illegal, learn how to answer them.

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