It’s illegal for an interviewer to ask if you’re pregnant or if you have kids, but the interviewer could very well ask how you spend your time vacationing to see if you mention having a family. It’s also illegal to ask about your medical history, but an interviewer could bring up her own seasonal allergies or casually mention that she got her flu shot last week to see how you respond.
We spoke with Matthew Reischer, attorney, founder and CEO of LegalAdvice.com, who shared some common modifications made by hiring managers during the interview process to get the information they’re looking for without crossing the line into illegal territory.
Illegal question: Are you a U.S. citizen?
Modified question: Are you authorized to work in the U.S.?
Illegal question: Do you drink?
Modified question: Do you currently use any illegal drugs?
Note: Companies can actually ask about your current drug use but not your past drug use. They can’t ask if you drink specifically, but they can most definitely ask if you’re currently using any drugs.
Illegal question: How old are you?
Modified question: How long have you been working? Or how long have you been in this industry?
Other questions that are illegal to ask include where you live, what you do in your free time, which websites you frequent the most, if you’ve ever been arrested and what your personal spending habits are like. Basically, if it’s personal information, your employer does not have a right to know.
Laura Rose, business and career management coach, encourages companies and managers to be of high integrity and open with their job expectations. “Instead of trying to sneak around to try to find out if people have kids, stick with outlining your job requirements and expectations. If there is a reason that you want to find out if they have kids, highlight the reason instead of the question,” she states.
“For example: This job requires long hours and lots of travel. You will be on the road 85 percent of the time, and when you are in the office, you will be putting in 15 hours and sometimes weekends,” Rose says. By being clear, you’re allowing the candidate to decide if this is something she can take on, regardless of whether or not she has kids.
By being direct about the position, you don’t have to be sneaky. “If you adequately describe the position and the type of people the position is best suited for, you don't have to beat around the bush by asking illegal questions. You won't have to ask those questions,” Rose concludes.
If you do find yourself being asked illegal questions in a roundabout way, consider that a warning sign to look elsewhere. Any company that isn’t going to be direct with you about the job expectations, or has the audacity to ask personal questions that you may be uncomfortable answering, probably doesn’t deserve you anyway.
If you know you’ve been asked an illegal question, it’s time to bring in the pros. The EEOC, or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is here to help. Contact the EEOC here if you wish to file a complaint regarding workplace discrimination.
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