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Job discrimination before you even get the job

After searching for a career opportunity, you may have felt that you had finally found your dream job. You had every qualification and more. You were careful to complete every question on the application and attach all the requested documentation.

Then you waited. Perhaps the manager called you for an interview that felt uncomfortable from the start, or you received an apologetic form letter or heard nothing at all from the company. What went wrong? Perhaps the answer is in your first official contact with the company: the job application.

Credit and crime

California law forbids potential employers to question you about certain private matters. One of those areas is your credit score. Asking for your credit report is not always necessary. In fact, a potential employer may request a credit report from you only if you are applying for certain jobs, for example:

  • An executive position
  • A job providing you with access to trade secrets
  • Work in which you regularly handle $10,000 or more of your employer's money
  • Work that gives you regular access to large amounts of customer or client money

If an employer requires a credit report, he or she should provide a written explanation of how the company will use the report and the job description that permits the employer to ask for the report.

An employer may not ask you to disclose certain criminal details from your past. For example, a California job application may not request information about the following:

  • Arrests that did not lead to convictions
  • Minor convictions for marijuana-related offenses older than two years
  • Deferral to pre-trial or post-trial programs, for example drug or alcohol counseling

If an employer eliminated your application because of your answers to these questions, he or she must be able to explain why the information affects your ability to do the job.

Other off-limits topics

In addition to these prohibited questions, a job application may not ask for details about your country of origin or disabilities. You may be asked to confirm that you are in this country legally and that you have the physical ability to complete the tasks the job requires. However, if you believe a potential employer passed you over for a job for which you had every qualification because of your truthful answers to prohibited questions, that employer may be using discriminatory hiring practices.

You may wish to discuss your situation with an employee rights attorney. An attorney with experience assisting people who have been treated unfairly in the workplace will be able to evaluate your circumstances and advise you on the best course of action.

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