It is important to know your rights as an interviewee and employee. Some things about you are protected at your current or future place of employment. Questions or decisions based on these “protected classes” are unlawful, both during an interview and after you’re hired. This applies to all employers with at least 15-20 employees.
Let’s look at each of these protected classes and some of the questions that you may face when interviewing, both illegal (×) and legal ().
Race & Color
Questions about a person’s race or skin color should never be used to determine their eligibility for a job. An employer may ask an employee to voluntarily reveal their race for affirmative action purposes, and that’s okay.
×ANY question about race or color is illegal.
Voluntarily disclosing information about race to your employer is okay for data collection purposes.
It is illegal to discriminate against an employee or applicant because of their religious beliefs. An interviewer might be curious for scheduling reasons such as religious holidays or weekly days of observance. Employers are required to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices in regard to flexible scheduling, along with other things like dress and grooming policy (as long as it’s not overly difficult or expensive for them to do so).
×What church do you go to?
×Do you need any religious holidays off?
Are you able to work all the required shifts?
This category includes a few interlinking topics – Employers shouldn’t ask you about your biological sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or pregnancy. Questions about marital status are also prohibited – Even a question as seemingly innocent as “Do you wish to be addressed as Mrs., Miss, or Ms.?” is not allowed.
×Are you pregnant or planning to be pregnant?
×Are you married?
×What is your maiden name?
×Do you identify as female or male? (This can be used on an application to collect data, but not to determine eligibility for the job)
Have you ever worked under any other name?
Do you have any commitments that will conflict with your work schedule?
Citizenship and immigration status cannot be used against a potential employee during the hiring process. Employers must wait until after a job offer to require a worker to submit documentation that proves identity and employment authorization.
×Are you a U.S. citizen?
×What country are you from?
×What kind of accent is that?
Are you legally eligible to work in the United States?
Can you speak/read/write in English?
Individuals who are 40 or older are protected from being discriminated against in favor of younger employees. There is no protection in place to protect younger workers from “reverse” age discrimination.
×How old are you?
×What year did you start working?
×What year did you graduate high school?
Did you graduate high school?
If we hire you, can you prove that you are 18 or older?
Employers cannot discount anyone from a job because of a physical or mental disability. In fact, an employer is required to accommodate disabilities unless it would be overly difficult or expensive for them to do so.
×Do you have a disability?
×Tell me about your medical history.
Are you able to perform all the duties of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation?
Any interviewer should know better than to ask any illegal questions. However, you may run across someone who has bad intentions, or they just don’t know any better. If you think a question might be discriminatory, you can respectfully decline to answer.
These questions could be forms of intentional discrimination, or they might be simple mistakes, but they should be reported either way. Consult the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) first, since they enforce laws against workplace discrimination. You can also let the organization’s Human Resources department know about it; they’ll want to be able to fix it!
*Note: This was written for general informational purposes only, and should not be used as legal advice. Find more information and advice on employment law from legal counsel or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: https://www.eeoc.gov/