I believe that I was asked illegal questions on a recent job interview. I wasn’t sure, so I answered them. I am uncomfortable with the entire situation and now I feel that at I shouldn’t have answered them. But, again, I’m not sure if they were illegal to ask. What are examples of illegal questions and how should I respond to them?
Protecting My Privacy
Dear Protecting My Privacy:
You did not provide the questions to me that you think might have been illegal, so let’s start off with a quiz.
Which of the following questions do you think are illegal for an interviewer to ask in an interview? The correct answers to the quiz are at the bottom here.
♣Are you over the age of 18?
♣Are you authorized to work in the US?
♣What languages do you read, speak or write fluently?
♣Have you ever been disciplined for your behavior at work?
♣Have you ever been convicted of fraud?
♣Do you use illegal drugs?
♣How do you feel about supervising women?
♣Were you honorably discharged from the military?
♣Who is your closest relative to notify in case of an emergency?
Federal and state laws prohibit prospective employers from asking certain questions that are not specifically related to the position for which they are hiring. For example, questions designed to elicit personal information should not be used. To overview: employers should not be asking about your ethnic background, nor country of origin, race, gender, marital or family status, religion, age, disabilities or sexual preferences. To eliminate someone from selection for a position for any of these reasons is absolutely discriminatory.
Although they are called “illegal interview questions,” it must be noted that a specific question may not be illegal to ask by itself. However, if an interviewer asks a question that has discriminatory implications and then intentionally denies you employment based on your answer to that question, he or she may have broken the law. For example, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it is not against the law for an interviewer to request your date of birth. It is, though, against the law for an interviewer to deny you employment because you are considered “too old.”
For the most part, interviewers are really not out to discriminate against job applicants. It seems, however, that there is a really fine line between what is and what is not legal to ask. It depends upon the context in which the questions are being asked and that can be challenging for a job applicant to figure out.
Many of the “illegal questions” that interviewers ask are unintentional and, if you tactfully point out that question is illegal, the interviewer will likely realize his or her mistake and immediately retract the question. The challenge is for you to determine what to say while you are sitting in there faced with what you perceive is indeed an illegal question. Basically, you have three options when that happens.
♣Just answer the question. If you don’t really object to giving the interviewer the information and you are concerned about “making waves,” you can respond to the question and move on to the next one. Bear in mind that you should only answer the question if you are truly comfortable providing the information because there is always the risk that it could â€œcome back to haunt you.”
♣Refuse to answer the question. You can gently explain to the interviewer that the question does not seem to be legal or relevant to the specific requirements of the job. In this case, however, you need to understand that direct response of that nature should really be saved specifically for questions that are truly offensive or deeply troubling to you. Refusing to answer a question with which you are very uncomfortable might cost you the job.
♣Avoid responding to the specific question, but provide an answer to what you think is the intention behind the question. Most of the time, this is the best choice, as it allows you to provide a non-confrontational and tactful answer without sacrificing your rights. In order to effectively answer the intention behind the question, you will need to attempt to determine what the interviewer is trying to find out. For example, if the interviewer asks if you have children – definitely an illegal question – a savvy answer might be, “If you mean to ask if I am available to work overtime or to travel on business trips, the answer is absolutely, on occasion.” In cases like these, it is advisable to rephrase the question into a legal one, and then, to respond to it.
Answers to the quiz: The last three questions are, in general, considered to be illegal for an interviewer to ask. In certain circumstances and/or context, they may be considered legal to ask. It is truly a “fine line.”
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