Preparing for a new job and the application process is often nerve-wracking and stressful. Do you ever wonder what the employer will ask you, or what qualifications you should emphasize, to show that you are capable of performing the tasks of the job? Preparing to answer questions such as “What can you do for our team?” or “What’s your greatest weakness?” is crucial. But imagine your potential employer asking you “How old are you?” or, “Are you planning on having kids soon?” The interview process has changed quickly from innocent to illegal. Before going to your next job interview, brush up on your rights as an applicant.
There are many things an employer cannot ask you on your application. These are certain questions that violate your civil rights, such as:
- Age/Date of birth. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects applicants from disclosing their age during the hiring process to prevent age discrimination. If the applicant is less than 18 years of age, asking for the date of birth is permissible because of children’s labor laws. After being hired, the company may ask for birth certificates or licenses to verify date of birth for pension purposes, but they may not ask for these before hiring you.
- Race, Religion, National Origin. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires that covered employers consider people of all nationalities and color. Each application should state that the company is an Equal Opportunity Employer, and at no point should you answer a question like “Where were you born”, “What is your ancestry”, or “What religious beliefs do you follow?” There are I-9 forms that can be used to determine the status of citizenship of an applicant. These questions do not belong on an application.
- Physical traits, disabilities. Unless height and weight are directly related to job performance, these questions should not be on the application. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits general inquiries about disabilities, health problems, and medical conditions. The employer may ask if you are capable of fulfilling the requirements of the job, but they may not ask you if you have disabilities or health problems.
There are many other restrictions on the application and interview process, which should be explored by everyone looking for employment. While most employers do not have discriminatory intentions and are attempting to find the right “fit for the job,” you may find yourself in a situation where you are asked a question that is unlawful.
What should you do when this problem arises? First, consider the intent of the question and how it was phrased. It is important that you understand the employer’s reason for asking the question and their method of assessment, rather than assuming they have discriminatory intentions.
There are many ways to creatively answer questions without disclosing unlawful information. For example, if you are asked “How old are you?” the best answer is to refer the question back to the job you are applying for. “I am of legal working age” is a fit answer. If you are asked “What religion are you?” it is okay to answer with “My religious practices will not hinder my potential to successfully perform the tasks of this position.” Keep in mind that your application becomes a permanent part of your file. If you choose to be untruthful on your application, that only provides the employer a potentially valid reason to terminate you down the road.
There are times, however, that witty answers may not be enough for the prying interviewer. If this is the case, you may follow these steps:
- Inform the employer that the question is illegal. While most people wouldn’t dare correct an interviewer, it can be tactfully stated in a non-accusing way.
- Answer the question. Now that you have informed them of the question being illegal, the employer would be in violation of your civil rights if the information is used against you.
- If you are offended, you can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Office.
Be aware that taking this stance for your civil rights is courageous and may cost you the opportunity for employment. However, if an employer is left in the dark ages and has no qualms about violating your rights, it might be best to seek employment elsewhere.