During the interviewing process employers will try to gather as much information about you as possible through questions, but sometimes these questions are illegal. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employers from discriminating on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin or disability. Read on to find out what types of questions are illegal and how they should be asked by an employer.
The employer should always make sure to ask these questions in a way that relates them to the job specifications. If you have a disability that is known (use of a guide dog or wheelchair) and would interfere with a job function, the interviewer is legally allowed to ask you to define how you would perform this function. They cannot however ask how severe your disability is or how it would limit your performance. A good response could be “If I were to get X position I could perform this function through my disability”.
Employers may ask this information to inquire how much time you can dedicate to the job being offered. This question can be used against you because it reveals your marital status along with your sexual orientation. Watch out for any questions related to this (What does your spouse do? Who will take care of your children while you are at work?) A good way to answer these questions would be “I am not sure, but I am interested in what career I can build with your company.” This shows employers you are interested and committed for the long run.
What is your national origin?
U.S. employers have to be careful when hiring a new employee, especially if they are not legally allowed to work in the U.S. What is the best way for them to find out this information? Just by simply asking “Are you legally authorized to work in the US?” Questions such as “Where are you from” or “What is your nationality” are illegal. Sometimes these specific questions will slip out but you can dodge them by saying, “I am from Indiana and you?” or “I have lived in several places but I am legally allowed to work in the US if that is what you are asking.” It is a good way to reveal the information an employer is seeking.
Employers may inquire about your religion to plan in advance for scheduling you on the weekends and/or holidays. Asking about your schedule is legal but employers should not tie these questions to your religion. If the interviewer keeps poking at the question, it is best to respond by “What is the schedule like for the position?” and assure them of your availability for the position.
How old are you?
Sometimes younger qualified candidates get passed for more experienced workers. On the opposite end of the spectrum, older workers are pushed aside for younger employees who do not require as high of a salary. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act only protects those who are over 40 years old so an employee may seem like they are discriminating against you if you are younger. If an employer claims they generally hire older and more experienced candidates for the position understand what point the employer is focusing on; experience in the position. A great way to answer this is concentrating on your skills and how you as a candidate would benefit the company.
Remember, not all employers ask illegal questions with the intention of doing so, they often slip out. They may use these questions as a form of small talk, not realizing they are illegal. If you feel a question is not appropriate, you can always ask how the question relates to the job or you have every right to not even answer it. Illegal questions happen all the time, you have to look at the bigger picture when encountering one. Knowing how to respond depends on what you feel the intent of the question is, how badly you want the position and how you respond may hurt you from landing the job. Either way, becoming familiar on where the law stands is important.
“Jenny Agostino is a senior at Indiana University. She plans to graduate in May 2014 with a degree in Dietetics. After graduation Jenny hopes to complete a dietetic internship and obtain her license to practice as a registered Dietitian. She would also like to continue her education by attaining a Master’s degree in nutrition. “
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