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Understanding Illegal and Inappropriate Interview Questions

You may encounter illegal or inappropriate questions during a job interview, especially if the interviewer is inexperienced or unsophisticated. These illegal or inappropriate questions that cross the line may be personal, intrusive, or discriminatory in nature.

In general, employers shouldn’t ask about any of the following topics:

  • Age

  • Birthplace

  • Color

  • Disability

  • Marital/family status

  • National origin

  • Race

  • Religion

  • Sex

Defining illegal questions

An illegal question is one that the interviewer has no legal right to ask. Most states and large cities have laws restraining employers from going hog-wild with intrusive questions covering civil rights — age, sex, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so forth. Asking illegal questions can get the interviewer (in a company that retains lawyers) in big trouble.

To find out what’s what in your locale, get the facts. You can inquire at your state or city attorney general’s office. A library may have a list of questions that shouldn’t be asked, according to state or local laws.

Standing up for your rights

The employment landscape has changed during the past decade, and you may want to rethink your attitude about the need to stand up for your rights in response to every single questionable question — for your own advantage.

Consider these factors:

  • People post their inner moments and life events on social networking and blog Web sites. That’s where recruiters are discovering revelations about family plans, church activities, health issues, personal disasters, and more. When so much voluntarily announced personal information is posted online for all eyes, there’s no need for employers to resort to asking risky questions.

  • Your past and current situation can be revealed by an employment background check, of which a credit report may be a part. Today most companies conduct employment background checks on potential employees. The check-ups range from criminal records searches and civil litigation history to educational background, job history, credit reports, and Social Security verifications.

    The use of employment background checks has skyrocketed because of three main reasons:

    • Post-9/11 security cautions.

    • Workplace violence concerns about hiring potentially violent people.

    • Lack of information from references. Background checks serve as the reference of last resort in a time of tight-lipped employers. Employers are sometimes stingy with reference information to avoid legal liability by revealing more about former employees than the “name/rank/serial number” basics.

  • People who suspect their rights have been trampled aren’t so quick to pull the legal trigger these days. This is in part because of the growing realization that employment discrimination litigation isn’t famous for big money awards. And employment litigation can drag on and on. Even preliminary action by the EEOC doesn’t happen overnight (if ever).

    When you sue, your name is likely to end up in a civil litigation database which future potential employers may see, perhaps causing them to decide that you’re a troublemaker.

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