Illegal Questions

There are a number of types of questions that you are not legally required to answer, like your marital status, religion, living situation, plans for the future, and so on. You should be aware of what these are and decide how to handle them. You don't have to answer them, and you don't have to volunteer this sort of information even if you are asked open ended questions. If you are asked inappropriate questions when interviewing, be polite and try not to be defensive. It may just be someone trying to be helpful and tell you about their good benefits, or the interviewer may not really understand how they sound or even realize they shouldn't be asking. Give people the benefit of the doubt, and try to give a diplomatic response.

Some general answers that may be useful:

  • `I don't let my living situation affect my work.'
  • `If you have a booklet describing your benefits I'd like to get a copy to look at later.'
  • `Thanks, I was planning to go over the benefits with someone from personnel.'

The following guidelines, called the Fair Inquiry Guidelines were established by the EEOC, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in order to provide specific protection from discrimination in hiring certain protected classes.

Subject: Relatives Marital Status
Unlawful Inquiries: Whether the applicant is married, divorced, separated, engaged, widowed, etc. "What is your marital status?", if over 18 "What is the name of relative/spouse/children?", "With whom do you reside?", "Do you live with your parents?", "How old are your children?"
Lawful Inquiries: "What are the names of relatives already employed by the company or a competitor?", other than that specific question, NONE.
Subject: Residence
Unlawful Inquiries: Names or relationship of persons with whom applicant resides. Whether applicant owns or rents a home. "Do you live in town?"
Lawful Inquiries: Inquiries about address to the extent needed to facilitate contacting the applicant. (A post office box is a valid address.) "Will you have problems getting to work at 9am?" is also legal.
Subject: Pregnancy
Unlawful Inquiries: All questions relating to pregnancy and medical history concerning pregnancy. "Do you plan on having more children?"
Lawful Inquiries: Inquiries to a duration of stay on a job or anticipated absences which are made to males and females alike. "Do you foresee any long term absences in the future?"
Subject: Physical Health
Unlawful Inquiries: Over general questions ("Do you have any handicaps?") which would tend to divulge handicaps or health conditions which do not relate reasonably to fitness to perform the job. "What caused your handicap?", "What is the prognosis of your handicap?", Have you ever had any serious illness?", "Do you have any physical disabilities?"
Lawful Inquiries: "Can you lift 40 lbs?", "Do you need any special accommodations to perform the job you've applied for?", "How many days did you miss from work (or school) in the past year?" The questions have to relate to the job.
Subject: Family
Unlawful Inquiries: Questions concerning spouse, or spouse's employment, salary, child care, arrangements, or dependents. "How will your husband feel about the amount of time you will be travelling if you get this job?", "What kind of childcare arrangements have you made?"
Lawful Inquiries: Whether applicant can meet specified work schedules or has activities or commitments that may prevent him or her from meeting attendance requirements. "Can you work overtime?", "Is there any reason why you can't be on the job at 7:30 am?"
Subject: Name
Unlawful Inquiries: Any inquiries about name which would divulge marital status, lineage, ancestry, national origin or descent. For example, "If your name has been legally changed, what was your former name?"
Lawful Inquiries: Whether an applicant has worked for the company or a competitor under any other name and if so, what name. Name under which applicant is know to references if different from present name. i.e. "What name are you know to the references you provided us?"
Subject: Sex
Unlawful Inquiries: Any inquiry. "Do you wish to be addressed as Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms.?" or ANY inquiry as to sex such as "Do you have the capacity to reproduce?", "What are your plans to have children in the future?"
Lawful Inquiries: None
Subject: Photographs
Unlawful Inquiries: Requests that an applicant submit a photo at any time prior to hiring.
Lawful Inquiries: May be requested after hiring for identification purposes.
Subject: Age
Unlawful Inquiries: Any questions that tends to identify applicants age 40 or older.
Lawful Inquiries: "Are you 18 years of age?", "If hired, can you furnish proof of age?"
Subject: Education
Unlawful Inquiries: Any question asking specifically the nationality, racial or religious affiliation of a school.
Lawful Inquiries: All questions related to academic, vocational or professional education of an applicant, including the names of the schools attended, degrees/diplomas received, dates of graduation and courses of study.
Subject: Citizenship
Unlawful Inquiries: Whether an applicant is a citizen. Requiring a birth certificate, naturalization or baptismal certificate. Any inquiry into citizenship would tend to divulge applicant's lineage, descent, etc.
  • "Are you a citizen of the US?"
  • "Are your parents or spouse citizens of the US?"
  • "On what dates did you , your parents or your spouse acquire US Citizenship?"
  • "Are you, your parents or your spouse naturalized or native-born US citizens?"
Lawful Inquiries: Whether applicant is prevented from lawfully employed in this country because of visa or immigration requirements. Whether applicant can provide proof of citizenship (passport), visa, alien registration number after hiring. "If you are not a US citizen, do you have the legal right to remain permanently in the US?", "What is your visa status (if no to the previous question.)", Are you able to provide proof of employment eligibility upon hire?"
Subject: National Origin/Ancestry
Unlawful Inquiries: Everything. "What is your nationality?", "How did you acquire the ability to speak, read or write a foreign language?", "How did you acquire familiarity with a foreign country?", "What language is spoken in your home?", "What is your mother tongue?"
Lawful Inquiries: "What languages do you speak, read or write fluently". This is only legal when the inquiry is based on a job requirement.
Subject: Race or Color
Unlawful Inquiries: Any question that directly OR INDIRECTLY relates to a race or color.
Lawful Inquiries: None
Subject: Religion
Unlawful Inquiries: Any question that directly or INDIRECTLY relates to a religion. "What religious holidays to you observe?", "What is your religious affiliation?"
Lawful Inquiries: None except "Can you work on Saturdays?", and that only if it relevant to the job.
Subject: Organizations
Unlawful Inquiries: "To what organizations, clubs, societies and lodges do you belong?"
Lawful Inquiries: "To what PROFESSIONAL organizations do you belong? (Exclude those whos names or character indicates the race, religious creed, color, national origin or ancestry of its members." These inquiries must only relate to the applicants professional qualifications.
Subject: Military
Unlawful Inquiries: Type or condition of military discharge. Applicant's experience in other than US armed forces. Request for discharge papers.
Lawful Inquiries: Inquiries concerning education, training or work experience in the armed forces of the United States. (Note, in many areas, veterans are a protected class.)
Subject: Height & Weight
Unlawful Inquiries: Any inquiries not based on actual job requirements.
Lawful Inquiries: Inquiries about the ability to perform a certain job. Being of a certain weight or height will not be considered a job requirement Unless the employer can show that no employee with the ineligible H & W could do the work.
Subject: Arrests & Convictions
Unlawful Inquiries: All inquiries relating to arrests. "Have you ever been arrested?" (Note: Arrests are NOT the same as convictions. An innocent person can be arrested, remember.)
Lawful Inquiries: None relating to arrests. Legal inquiries about convictions are: "Have you ever been convicted of any crime? If so, when, where and disposition of case. "Have you ever been convicted under criminal law withing the past five years (excluding minor traffic violations)?" It is permissible to inquire about convictions for acts of dishonesty or breach of trust. These relate to fitness to perform the particular job being applied for, as stipulated by FDIC requirements.