Can They Ask That? Potentially Illegal and Discriminatory Questions

Some questions asked during the job interview process have absolutely nothing to do with the job at hand. Like it or not, employers are still asking questions that are illegal.

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws and regulations, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and state laws exist to prevent employers from asking job candidates questions that may be discriminatory in nature and could serve to screen them out of consideration for the job.

Examples of such questions include:

  • Do you have any children?
  • Do you own or rent your home?
  • Do you live alone?
  • Do you have a disability?
  • What is your religion?
  • Whom did you vote for in the last election?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Where were you born?
  • What is your ethnic background?
  • What is your spouse's name and what does s/he do?

How should you answer such questions? You have four options:

  • Option 1 - You could answer the question point blank, even though it is an illegal or discriminatory question.

  • Option 2 - You could get angry and bluntly refuse to answer the question. (And kiss the job goodbye while you say this.)

  • Option 3 - You could ask the employer to repeat the question and explain to you how that has anything to do with the position for which you are applying.

  • Option 4 - You could answer the intent of the question, assuming you know why the employer asked in the first place. For example, if the job involves travel, and the interviewer asks if you have children, s/he may be concerned about whether you will be able to carry out that part of the job.

Why do employers ask these irritating questions when it is against the law to do so? For one, they might not know that the questions are illegal or discriminatory. Or, they may not care. You can't control what they ask, but you can control how you answer them.

SOURCE: Adapted from Janet I. Farley, The Military Spouse's Complete Guide to Career Success (Manassas Park: Impact Publications) pages 110-112. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.