Updated: Jan 30
Driving over the posted speed limit is illegal and yet every day, many people speed. Similarly, there are topics that are illegal to ask applicants during the hiring process and yet some interviewers still ask them.
Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.
The good news is that the majority of interviewers have good intentions and approach the interview process professionally and with the intention to find the best fit employee for the company. That said, let's get you more prepared just in case you do encounter questionable questions. During an interview situation, it's up to you to recognize whether any questions skirt the line or are over the line of legality.
First things first, here are some things that have NOTHING to do with the quality of work you provide to your employer: age, race, gender, who you worship, your plans whether or not to have children, who you love or your relationship status.
The following are just some of the topics that are protected by State and Federal laws during the job application process: age, race, national origin, gender, religion, marital status, and sexual orientation. For more details on the existing US federal laws, visit the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website. Below is a brief explanation of some of these topics protected by federal law.
Did you know age discrimination is relevant at ALL ages? Would you be considered 'too young' for a job or, if you've been in the career field for many years, would you be considered 'too old' for the job? Either way, it shouldn't matter and questions regarding your age are illegal according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. You bring your experience to the table for a job opportunity and that counts no matter how many candles are currently on your birthday cake. Any questions in regards to your age are off-limits at any time before or during employment.
Title VII protects you from racial discrimination in employment practices. Your skin color doesn't make you a better or worse employee, it just makes you YOU! It doesn't matter your race or ethnicity for employment. Diversity is beautiful. Keep in mind that you should not need to provide your race during any part of the job application process. If that information is requested, it should be optional. Also keep in mind that for most job positions, a photo of yourself is not required during the application process. That means that you don’t need to send a photo of yourself during the job application process unless specifically requested by the prospective employer. By providing a photo of yourself during the job application process, you could be opening yourself up to being discriminated against based on your race or perceived race. For most professions, a head shot is not necessary but for some professions such as in media, a head shot photo would make sense. It is best that you research your own profession and prospective employer ahead of time to know what is expected for the application process.
You don't necessarily have to be a US citizen to work in the United States. There are other options, such as a temporary work visa, which you can use to work in the US legally. If you have the right to work legally, then no one can take that from you. More information about immigrant and employee rights can be found on the US Department of Justice website.
Your gender identity doesn't affect your overall job performance and as such, it shouldn't be a consideration during the application or salary negotiation process. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 exists to help ensure equal pay for equal work regardless of the employee's gender. Unfortunately, even with the Equal Pay Act, there still exists a substantial gender-based pay gap in the US and in other countries. While a full solution to this pay gap continues to elude us, agencies such as the US Department of Labor, has provided research that helps explain the problem and some of the causes. The best thing you can do is to become informed of the issue, know your rights, know your value, and then go after what you deserve within your profession.
Who you worship doesn't affect your abilities as an employee. You have the right to live your own faith and worship as you will. Any questions regarding your religion or religious beliefs should not be a part of the job application process. Keep in mind that as part of Title VII law, an employer is required "to reasonably accommodate the religious belief of an employee or prospective employee, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship".
If you're in a relationship or if you're single or married, your relationship status doesn't have anything to do with whether or not you will be a good employee. Some employers might want to know your relationship status to better understand your commitment to the company as well as to estimate how long you'll be working with the company. [see next topic]
Some employers would like to better understand the family plans of their employees, more specifically for women. However, this topic is illegal because it unfairly discriminates women based on the fact that they are more likely to need more time away from work due to having children.
Sexual Orientation - Updated June 2020
Love is love. Whom you choose to love is not a reflection of your professional abilities or experience. In June 2020, a historic ruling was made by the United States Supreme Court that says Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 covers sexual orientation and transgender status under the category of 'sex'. This means that it is now illegal in every state and locality across the US to discriminate based on a person's sexual orientation or transgender status.
Prior to this ruling, "sex" is covered under the Title VII law, but there continued to be debate whether sexual orientation is covered as well. At the local level, some good news came in April 2017, when the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “…discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination” as stated by Judge Diane Wood. (Source: CNN website) While this ruling could not be applied nation-wide, it did support all persons within the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals area, which includes the states of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Another win against this type of discrimination took place in February 2018. The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that sexual orientation is covered under Title VII stating that “sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination because sexual orientation is defined by one’s sex in relation to the sex of those to whom one is attracted”. (Source: CNN website) As with the ruling from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, this ruling was not nation-wide but did apply to persons within the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals area, which includes the states of New York, Connecticut, and Vermont.
Know that your sexual orientation does not impact your professional experience or the value you bring to an employer. And now that there is a ruling from the highest court in the United States, you are protected from workplace discrimination!
So, what can you do to best prepare for your career journey and job application process? Congratulations, you're already taking step one, educating yourself. The more information you have, the better position you'll be in. Make sure you include members of your Career Team to help you prepare for and practice interviewing and salary negotiations. They can help by asking direct and nuanced questions relating to the topics above so that you can practice how you would respond if asked in an actual interview. To learn more about the purpose of a Career Team and how to create your own, visit this blog post. For some examples of questionable interview questions, check out this article by Business Insider about illegal interview questions and how to handle them. The article is a few years old but is still relevant