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Making the Hot Seat even HOTTER: The Top Ten Illegal Job Interview Questions

A job interview can be a stressful event. But when a potential employer asks unlawful interview questions, things can go from stressful to illegal. The legality of interview questions is based on federal and local laws, and questions about specific topics (such as race and religion) have been made illegal due to movements such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. If interview questions are relevant to a job, they are usually fair game. If they are not, however, they can be the basis of a Labor and Employment lawsuit, whether the applicant is hired or not.

Although HR departments today should be aware of questions that are prohibited to ask prospective employees, some hiring managers/companies are not so up-to-date. Many illegal interview questions are easily recognizable, but others might come as a surprise.

Where were you born?

This question might seem like idle chit chat when getting to know a person, but it could also be used to gather information about the applicant’s national origin; i.e. whether he or she is a US citizen. Although an employer can ask whether an applicant is authorized to work in the United States, it is illegal to ask about citizenship.

What is your native language?

An employer can ask an applicant whether he or she knows a language if it is required for the job. For example, if job responsibilities require an English-speaking employee to be bilingual, it is legal to ask whether the candidate speaks that language; i.e. Spanish, Tagalog, etc.However, it is illegal to ask an applicant about their native language, as this could be used to establish national origin.

Are you married?

This is another question that would seem like idle getting-to-know-you chit chat. But not only is this question the dreaded, fingernails-on-chalkboard inquiry for every single woman over thirty, it is an illegal interview question because an employer cannot discriminate on the basis of marital status.

Do you have children?

This question is illegal, as well, because an employer cannot discriminate on the basis of parental status.Even if the applicant brings up the fact that he or she does have children, an employer cannot press for further information during the interview, such as the age and sex of the child/children.

Do you plan to get pregnant?

This interview question is a definite no-no. In the past, employers asked this question to flag women who were likely to take a maternity leave.Nowadays, it is illegal to question what a woman’s plans are for future motherhood.

How old are you?

Give Grandpa a break!Some companies try to avoid hiring older workers for a variety of reasons, ranging from a fear of higher healthcare costs and absences to a social bias in favor of youth. However, with more and more elderly citizens staying in and returning to the workforce, hiring (and firing) on the basis of age is strictly illegal.

What do you do for Christmas?

This is another innocently-appearing question that would seem to be discussing travel around the holidays, but an employer cannot discriminate on the basis of religion, hence this question is illegal – as is asking about Good Friday, Yom Kipper, or Kwanza. If an employer is concerned about an applicant’s availability, it is legal to ask whether he or she can work on holidays and weekends, but not about specific religious observances.

Do you have a disability or chronic illness?

If a job requires some specific physical tasks, such as lifting heavy equipment and/or scaling tall buildings, an employer may ask whether an applicant could perform these tasks with reasonable accommodation.However, to ask about a specific health condition is illegal and must be avoided.

Are you in the National Guard?

Although some companies may find it disruptive when an employee leaves for duty, it is illegal to discriminate against an applicant because he or she belongs to the National Guard or other reserve unit.

Do you smoke or use alcohol?

Unless court ordered, when an employee is not on a company’s premises and not on the job; i.e. on-call, it is illegal to discriminate against their use of a legal product. Hence, it is also illegal to inquire about such extracurricular activities during an interview.

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