The general rule is that legitimate interview questions are relevant to the job. They can ask if you will be able to do each part of the job (lift boxes, drive a truck for a certain number of hours, stand for long periods, work weekends as needed, etc.). They are not supposed to make decisions because of things which are protected by discrimination laws: religion, race, national origin, sex, age, or disability.
What can they ask me in an interview or on the application?
It is illegal for employers to discriminate because of a person's race, sex, religion, disability, age, or national origin (what country you're from). Some states protect other groups of people who are often discriminated against. Many people believe that it is illegal to ask questions about those things. In fact, it's not illegal to ask questions, but it is illegal to discriminate based on those questions or answers. Once the employer has the information, the company could be asked to prove that they didn't use it to make hiring decisions.
It is illegal to use information they get from certain questions to decide who to hire. For example, it is not illegal to ask what your religion is. It is illegal to decide not hire you BECAUSE you are Muslim. If they ask questions to find out you're a Muslim, then you have a stronger claim if you aren't hired. Bosses can ask if you are married or have children (including if you have childcare plans), but they are not supposed to make hiring decisions based on the answer. If they ask, they are supposed to ask everyone.
Unless it relates to a something necessary to do the job (called a "bona fide occupational qualification" (BFOQ)), these kinds of questions may suggest that the employer is using the information to discriminate. It is suspicious when an employer asks:
- questions that don't help to judge your qualifications or how well you would do the job
- questions which might tell if you are part of a protected group (like race, age, religion, marital status)
- different questions to different workers
After you are offered a job, your new boss can ask many of the questions that before you were hired might have shown that they were discriminating in hiring. Still, there should be a legitimate business reason for asking. They are still not allowed to discriminate in pay, promotions, or treatment on the job because of age, race, national origin, disability, and religion.
What can you do if you are asked questions or told things that are discriminatory?
It's hard when you are asked questions that show that they may not be giving you a fair chance at a job. First, you have to decide whether to answer the question. If you don't answer or tell them the question is discriminatory, they may think you're a troublemaker who they don't want to hire. Sometimes, it helps to try to understand what they're really asking. For example, if they ask if you have kids or about your disability, ask if they're wondering about absenteeism or whether you can be flexible in scheduling; then, tell them why they don't have to worry ("at my last job, I won attendance awards every quarter" or "my retired mother is always available to care for my children").
If something happens during the interview that seems discriminatory, take notes as soon as possible after the interview. If you aren't offered the job, you can decide what to do -- either talking to a lawyer or the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). Some states have agencies to help workers who face discrimination.
It is illegal to ask questions to find out if a worker has a disability.
Usually, an employer cannot ask about if you have a disability, how bad it is, or what kind of disability it is. They should not ask if or when you've been in the hospital. They should not ask if you have ever filed a workers' compensation claim for a workplace injury or illness.
All the employer should ask if you can do the essential functions of the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation. Even if you will need an accommodation before you can do the job, you don't have to say so. If you do say you will need an accommodation, they can ask for details.
The interviewer can ask about your disability and what accommodations you would need to do the essential job functions if:
- you have a disability that people can see, or
- you tell an employer that you have a disability or that you will need an accommodation
Employers can have applicants show that they can do the main parts of the job ("essential job function"), but they should ask everyone to do the same things. If it is reasonable to think an applicant won't be able to do a main part of the job because of a disability, then that one person can be asked to show that they can do it.