Illegal Interview Questions
Different laws render discrimination on specific protected categories such as race, national origin, citizenship, age, marital status, disability status, criminal record, gender, or pregnancy, illegal. Any interview question that asks an applicant to disclose information about such topics is unlawful. The purpose of this article is to discuss illegal interview questions.
The interview process can be daunting and downright stressful to some candidates because there are so many questions that the interviewer might ask. However, keep in mind that there are many illegal questions that the interviewer is not supposed to ask under any circumstances. These questions are off-limits because they ask the candidate to discuss information about personal issues such as age, religion, race, marital status, and other protected categories.
However, some interviewers still do ask illegal interview questions in this day and age. Here is a list of questions that interviewers should not ask.
Queries about age.
Interviewers are permitted to ask if you are at least 18 years of age to make sure that applicants are legally old enough to work. However, specific questions about age are not allowed. Questions about specific dates of school attendance are not permitted. Interviewers are not allowed to ask for a copy of your birth certificate.
Queries about one's criminal record.
The interviewer may question applicants about arrests, charges, or convictions significantly related to the job for which you are applying. The interviewer may not ask about arrests or charges that do not significantly pertain to the job.
Queries about national origin.
Interviewers are allowed to ask if you are legally authorized to work in the United States. They may not ask about your birthplace or your parents' birthplace. They may not ask, "Are you American?" They are not supposed to ask, "Where are you from?"
Queries about your health status.
All questions about your personal health status are off-limits at all times. The interviewer is not supposed to ask any questions about the health of any of your family members. However, it is perfectly legal to perform pre-employment physicals.
Questions about sexual orientation.
All questions regarding sexual orientation are off-limits at all times.
Questions regarding racial-ethnic background and appearance.
All questions about one's racial-ethnic background are off-limits. Questions about weight, skin tone, complexion, or height are not to be asked by interviewers.
Queries about religion.
The interviewer is allowed to discuss the work schedule and ask if you are able to follow it. However, the interviewer may not ask about religious preferences, places of worship, affiliations, denominations, or symbols of religion.
Questions about marital status and family.
The interviewer is legally not allowed to ask if you are married. The interviewer is not supposed to ask if you are pregnant or have children. The interviewer should not ask about your current living arrangements.
Questions about disabilities.
All questions about your disability status should be off-limits. However, the interviewer is permitted to ask if you are able to perform the essential functions of the job for which you are applying. The interviewer may also ask about accommodations.
Questions about military service.
The interviewer may ask about prior military service as it pertains to the job. The interviewer may not ask about type of discharge (honorable, dishonorable, etc.) or current registration status.
Queries about credit histories.
The interviewer may obtain a credit report if the job involves financial responsibility or access to cash, insurance information, or personal data. Specific questions about credit ratings or credit scores are disallowed since they do not specifically pertain to work performance.
If an interviewer asks an illegal question, you have three options. You can answer the question. You may also refuse to answer the question. Finally, you may ask how the question pertains to the requirements of the job opening. Good luck to you!Last edit by Joe V on Jan 9, '15
About TheCommuter, BSN, RN Moderator
TheCommuter is a moderator of allnurses.com and has varied experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for more than four years prior to becoming a registered nurse.
TheCommuter has '11' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych'. From 'Fort Worth, Texas, USA'; 36 Years Old; Joined Feb '05; Posts: 38,035; Likes: 69,187.Jul 15, '12I have attached an Interview Question Guide that was made available to us at our College of Nursing. This is valuable, as it contains specific examples of unacceptable versus acceptable questions during interviews.Jul 15, '12Thank you for the article! And thank you VickyRN for the document!I have a question regarding this. Would it be acceptable for the interviewee to disclose some of this information? For example, what if soneone is pregnant and applying for an ICU position where they may have infectious patients? Or if one's religious obligations may require a minor accomodation of some sort?Jul 15, '12Quote from jjrodriguezYou can feel free to divulge personal information that is in a protected category. However, it is illegal for the interviewer to ask about it during the interview because the information might affect their decision to select you (or not).I have a question regarding this. Would it be acceptable for the interviewee to disclose some of this information? For example, what if soneone is pregnant and applying for an ICU position where they may have infectious patients? Or if one's religious obligations may require a minor accomodation of some sort?
Keep in mind that if you voluntarily disclose the need for accommodations due to pregnancy or religious services, the interviewer might reject you and hire the candidate who will not create scheduling issues later down the line due to giving birth, etc.Jul 15, '12Unfortunately, sexual orientation isn't a federally protected class, so asking about it wouldn't be illegal. Some states, hospitals, cities, schools, etc., do include sexual orientation as a protected class, but not all.
If this bugs you (and it should), here is some more information, including how people can make sexual orientation a protected group. Without it an employer can literally write "gay" across someone's termination papers. http://sites.hrc.org/sites/passendanow/index.aspLast edit by Calder on Jul 15, '12 : Reason: ClarificationJul 15, '12Thank you TheCommuter and VickRN for both of your imput regarding this subject. As a newly state certified CNA, I will be starting my job hunt in ernest. I have noticed that age has been an issue in my previous job applications (warehousing/Shipping/Receiving). Can't prove it but with over 20 years experience in the field, I couldn't land a job before switching to the medical field. It is a concern but I feel can also be a benefit to an employer, having varied life experiences under your belt. I am eager to start my new career.Jul 15, '12I worked for a large company. The DON and ADON kept applications in a binder with sticky notes on them. Some of the comments for why the person wasn't going to be hired:She was weird. He looked mean. And my favorite: she was TOO black. I really wanted to ask what just the right shade of black was, but when I found the binder they had both been fired.Jul 15, '12A RN told me she was told in an interview 'we don't want to hire anyone who is going to get pregnant.'Ironically it was for a OB position and this NM has 4 or 5 kids of her own. Legal or not?
Thanks 4 posting commuter.Jul 15, '12A RN told me that she was told in an interview 'we really don't want to hire anyone who is going to get pregnant.'. Ironically this was for an OB unit and the NM herself has 4 kids. Legal or not?
Either way very unethical IMO.
On another note I have been hearing about a lot of health care workers lately being 'asked to resign' or 'seek other employment and then give resignation.'Are there legal implications to this? Someone said never do this b/c you are better off to get fired so you can then file unemployment or sue for wrongful termination?Jul 15, '12Quote from hope3456First of all, anyone can sue for anything, and sometimes people do. But suing for wrongful termination is rarely successful unless a solid case can be built that an employee's rights have been violated and/or a contract willingly breeched. Most states are employment-at-will states, meaning that either the employee or employer can break the working relationship at any time for any reason OTHER than those protected by law, such as age, religion, national origin, disability. I highlight this because many workers want to ignore that this is a 2-way street. They want to be able to punish their employer if they don't like the way they are treated, but rarely consider the way that they treat their employer and co-workers as part of the deal.On another note I have been hearing about a lot of health care workers lately being 'asked to resign' or 'seek other employment and then give resignation.'Are there legal implications to this? Someone said never do this b/c you are better off to get fired so you can then file unemployment or sue for wrongful termination?
It is a commonly held belief that resigning from a position automatically renders one ineligible for unemployment compensation, while being involuntarily terminated assures one of unemployment benefits. This is an oversimplification of the truth.
When an employee willfully resigns for reasons such as returning to school, moving, staying home to provide care to a child/family member, or taking another job, the employer is usually absolved of any responsibility to provide unemployment benefits to the former employee.
When an employee is fired for gross and/or willful misconduct, the employer is usually likewise off the hook for unemployment.
Anything between (especially if there is a disagreement between employer and employee) is a gray area subject to interpretation by an unemployment judge.
So sometimes, an employee will resign, yet still be able to collect unemployment. Sometimes and employee will be involuntarily terminated, yet be unable to collect. It really depends upon the series of events leading up to the dismissal.
Was the employee beyond his/her probationary period? If there were problems with the employee's performance, were they well documented? Did the employee receive adequate training and supervision? Were there corrective actions documented? What was the employee's response to these re-teaching or re-training sessions? These are just some of the factors that an unemployment judge will consider in making a decision.
As an employer, I can assure you that we don't take lightly the decision to terminate an employee. Recruiting, interviewing and hiring is an expensive process. It is usually easier and cheaper to work with an employee, even very intensively, than it is to fire someone and start over. By the time we reach the point of dismissing an employee, we have a mound of paperwork to document the process. Unless we believe the employee to be truly dangerous, we might consider allowing that person to resign rather than be fired. Not because it will impact his/her unemployment eligibility. It won't. Our documentation will support our side in court, but because they can then truthfully answer potential employers' questions that they left the job voluntarily. I won't mislead a future employer in giving a reference, but nor do I want our experience to place a black mark on that person's applications at other jobs where s/he may be a better fit.
Make sense? Or clear as mudJul 15, '12Quote from JolieI can personally attest to this, since I have collected unemployment benefits twice after voluntarily resigning.So sometimes, an employee will resign, yet still be able to collect unemployment.
I was 18 years old and working at a fast food place during the first occurrence. One of the shift supervisors would make inappropriate, vulgar comments to me while using lots of slang and cursing. He was not a gang member, but he was fascinated with the gang culture, so he fronted with a tough-guy persona. The unemployment department decided that I resigned due to a hostile work environment, and I was awarded benefits.
I was 23 years old and had worked at a factory for three years at the time of the second occurrence. The factory was in coastal southern California, which is a very expensive place to live. I lived 120 miles away, in another part of the state with a lower cost of living. After one year of commuting, I gave up and quit the job. The unemployment judge decided I had explored all feasible options prior to resigning, and I was awarded benefits.
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