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What if you're asked illegal questions in an interview?

Sometimes you don't even have to get hired by a company before you start experiencing discrimination. Too many people in positions of hirng employees don't know what subjects should be off-limits in interviews. Others know, but don't care or can't help themselves.

A number of topics aren't allowed under federal and/or state laws, unless they're relevant to a specific job. Among the subjects that potential employers can't inquire about are:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Marital/family status
  • Birthplace or national origin
  • Salary history

Interviewers sometimes try to get around asking outright illegal questions like "How old are you?" with questions designed to get the same information, like what year you graduated from college. Unless you're interviewing for a job where you'll be serving alcohol, for example, you don't have to provide that information.

There are ways to get around such questions without blatantly calling out the interviewer's impropriety. You can say that it's not relevant to your ability to do the job. However, if you're getting a series of illegal, inappropriate questions, this may be indicative of the company's lack of knowledge of employment discrimination laws and the kind of workplace you'd be walking into if you got the job. It may be best to move on to another company.

It's important to understand what an employer does have a right to know when making a hiring decision. For example, if a job involves working some occasional long hours or taking business trips, employers need to know that you'll be able to do that. However, they don't have the right to ask how many children you have or if you have childcare arrangements. They just need to know you have the availability required.

Likewise, if you have a disability, employers don't have a right to know specifically what that disability is, how long you've had it and other personal details. However, if a job requires a certain amount of lifting or other physical activity, they may ask you if you're able to handle the physical requirements of the job.

Unless an interviewer or someone else in the company tells you that you didn't get the job because of a factor that's illegal, it can be difficult to prove that there was hiring discrimination. However, if you believe or know there was, you may want to discuss the situation with an experienced California work discrimination attorney.

Source: The Balance Careers, "How to Handle Illegal or Inappropriate Interview Questions," Alison Doyle, accessed May 25, 2018

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