Employers are required to hire candidates based on their qualifications to complete the job. To prevent discrimination, several types of questions are illegal for employers to ask you during an interview. Although employers should not ask you questions unrelated to the job, they have not broken the law unless they use your answers about your nationality, religion or age as a reason not to hire you.
Age and Gender
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects workers over the age of 40 from being discriminated against in favor of younger workers. Unfortunately, no law is in place providing younger workers the same protection. Employers should not ask you your age, but if they do, be prepared to respond by asking about experience required for the position and by highlighting your own skills. Some positions, such as law enforcement or positions that require serving alcohol, have a minimum age requirement. In these cases, the employer may require proof of age as a condition of hire. In addition, employers may not ask questions about your sex or gender unless it is relevant to the job. For example, gender is relevant in locker room or restroom attendant positions.
Nationality and Languages
Employers may not ask questions regarding your race, nationality, or ethnicity. This includes asking about your native language. Employers may ask if you speak a language, if that is required for the position. Employers may ask if you are a citizen of the United States. If you are not a citizen, they may ask if you are legally able to work and live in the United States, but they may not ask your country of citizenship.
Employers may not ask you about your religion or if you observe certain holidays or traditions. However, they may ask if you are able to work the required schedule if the job requires work on holidays or weekends.
Employers may not ask you about specific disabilities or health conditions. They can ask if you are able to perform specific duties such as lifting 50 pounds or standing for long periods of time. You will have to disclose any reasonable accommodations you need to fulfill the duties of the job. Unless these accommodations cause undue hardship, employers may not discriminate against you based on your disability.
Employers may not ask you about your marital status, number and age of children or if you have any future plans to become pregnant. Employers who ask these questions may want to know if your family and child care situation will affect the hours you will be able to spend working; however, as long as you are available to work the required hours, employers may not discriminate against you based on your family status. In addition, employers may not ask you about your arrest record, but they may ask you about convictions.
How to Handle Illegal Questions
In many cases, employers are not asking illegal questions in an attempt to discriminate against you. Although inappropriate in an interview, questions about where you are from and your family are often just an attempt to be friendly. If you are asked illegal interview questions, you may choose to answer them or you may ask the interviewer to explain how the questions relate to the job. Try to shift the discussion back to your skills or the requirements for the job. You may also deflect the questions. For example, if you are asked about your nationality, you could reply that you are a U.S. citizen or that you are legally able to work in the United States.
If you were asked illegal questions during your interview and you feel that you did not get the job because of these questions, you can take legal action by filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You can also contact an attorney to explore other legal options, including filing a law suit.