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Six Illegal Questions to Ask During a Job Interview By Cheryll Boswell

Job interviews are often uncomfortable. They become really uncomfortable when questions that don’t relate to a person’s background or qualifications are asked. There are federal and state laws that protect individuals when filling out applications or interviewing for a job. Those laws try to level the playing field so that individuals are hired based on their skills and education.

While most hiring managers in companies seek to find the best qualified person, they often make mistakes during the interview. Some job interview questions become illegal when they open the door for an employer to potentially discriminate based on your answer. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which expanded later to include the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), enforce laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age in hiring, promoting, firing, setting wages, testing, training, apprenticeship, and other conditions of employment.

When looking to fill positions for several nonprofit organizations, I always questioned gaps in employment while reviewing resumes. During the interview, it’s an opportunity to learn more about the person by asking one question. Just as there are common questions an employer will and can ask during the interview process, there are also questions that are illegal to ask when screening job candidates.

Doretha Jamison, the employment manager at METEC Resource Center, provided six questions that are illegal to ask during a job interview.

  1. Are you a U.S. Citizen? Employers can’t inquire about your nationality. Employers have a right to know if you can legally work in the U.S. They can ask if you’re authorized to worked in this country.

  2. Do you have children? What are your child care arrangements? These are inappropriate questions. An employer can ask if you can work overtime or if you’re available to travel.

  3. Are you married or what does your spouse do for a living? It’s illegal to ask questions pertaining to a person’s family status or family plans.

  4. What is your religion or what holidays do you celebrate is illegal to ask? Can you work weekends is acceptable? It has to be asked of everyone.

  5. How old are you? Employers have a right to know if you’re old enough to work for them and that you’re not a minor. Asking what year you graduated or how long you’ve been working, are questions to help figure out your age. Asking these questions leads to discrimination woes. If an employer is in doubt they can ask if you’re over the age of 18.

  6. Have you been arrested? Under the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants, Illinois law prohibits private-sector employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history on a job application. The law makes it possible for employers to inquire into an applicant’s background once they’ve interviewed for a specific position or a conditional job offer was given, but not during the interview.

There are more than six questions that are illegal to ask during a job interview. It’s important to know what can and can’t be asked during a job interview. Doretha suggest participants attend one of many job trainings or networking events hosted at METEC each week to learn how to be better prepared when seeking employment.