How do you know if an employer is asking prohibited questions?

On Behalf of | Oct 13, 2021 | Employment Law

If you’re interviewing with a prospective employer or for a higher-level job with your current employer, you may be willing to answer any question they ask you if you think it will help you get the job. However, many questions (and subject areas) are off-limits under the law unless they’re direct correlated to the job.

This includes questions around protected classes such as age, religion, gender, race, disability and country of origin. It also includes questions regarding pregnancy, family status, sexual orientation, gender identification, citizenship and financial health. 

What do these prohibited questions look like?

Even hiring managers and human resources professionals who know what lines of questioning are off-limits can try to sneak in questions that may seem innocuous. (Note: These questions typically aren’t any more acceptable after someone has been hired.)

These can include things like:

  • What year did you graduate from high school?
  • How did you learn Spanish (or any other language)?
  • Do you identify as male or female?
  • Do you have children (or plan to)?
  • Are you married?
  • What’s your ethnic background?
  • Do you belong to a church?
  • Do you own or rent your home?
  • Are you in debt?
  • How did you become disabled?
  • Is your cane (wheelchair, walker, etc.) temporary?
  • Have you ever been injured in the workplace or filed a workers’ comp claim?

The only thing an employer needs to know about an applicant is whether they’re able to do the job for which they’re applying. If that job requires someone to be at least 18 (or 21), then it is necessary to know that they’re of legal age. If they need their own car, that’s an acceptable thing to inquire about. Some religious organizations are allowed to seek employees of their denomination.

Many employers ask questions around citizenship when all they need to know is whether someone can legally work in the U.S. Citizenship status should never be a question on an application or in an interview.

If you don’t get a job, it can be impossible to know whether it was because discrimination was at play. However, businesses that have a pattern of not hiring or promoting people in protected classes or that blatantly discriminate can find themselves in legal jeopardy. If you believe you were discriminated against because you didn’t answer questions like those above (or because you did), it may be wise to learn more about your legal rights.