You really want this job. You certainly want to be pleasant and congenial, but out of nowhere you are hit with a question which makes you feel uncomfortable – a question which is inappropriate or maybe even illegal; what do you do?
Leslie Cobb with the US Labor Department division of Labor/Employee Relations reminds candidates on the government workplace website that “it is illegal not to hire candidates because of their race, color, sex, religion, national origin, birthplace, age, disability or marital/family status.” Interviewers are not to ask questions which would elicit such information. These questions can be subtle in nature but designed to discover information which a candidate does not have to answer.
Concerning national origin, an interviewer should not ask you, “How long has your family been in the U.S.? It is, however, acceptable to ask, “Are you eligible to work in the U.S.?
An interviewer may legally ask “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” It is not acceptable to ask “Have you ever been caught driving drunk?”
You may not be asked “What religious holidays do you celebrate?” If it is a business necessity to work on weekends, it is okay to be asked “Can you work on weekends?”
Questions related to age such as “What year were you born?” or “What year did you graduate?” are not okay, but it is okay to ask if you are over the age of 18.
Questions related to marital status and children are off limits as well. You cannot be asked “What does your husband/wife do?” or “What are your child care arrangements?”
If it would be asked of all applicants, an interviewer may ask if you can work certain hours.
You should never be asked “Are you on any medication?” or “Do you have any pre-existing health conditions?” If all applicants would be asked, then it is okay to ask “Can you perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation?”
Other illegal questions:
- “Was your military discharge honorable or dishonorable?”
- “Have you ever brought a lawsuit against an employer?”
- “Have you ever filed for Worker’s Compensation?”
- “Have you ever been sexually harassed?”
- “How much do you weigh?”
- “Do you use drugs or alcohol?”
And the list goes on and on. In fact, I imagine we could compile a truly interesting list.
WHAT ARE YOUR OPTIONS IN THIS SITUATION?
*BRIEFLY ANSWER THE QUESTION -IF YOU ARE COMFORTABLE IN DOING SO
*RESPOND TO THE INTENT OF THE QUESTION.
*IGNORE THE QUESTION AND CHANGE THE SUBJECT.
*REFUSE TO ANSWER THE QUESTION.
According to For Dummies website, you could always verbally “punch out” an interviewer. Suppose you are asked a question relating to your sex, you could cite Title VII, which says that basing employment decisions on sex is illegal, and then say that the question is discriminatory in nature. If up to this point the interview has been going well and you would really like to have this job, you may consider other options.
It will best serve a candidate to be tactful. Try and determine what is really being asked and then respond to what pertains to the position being sought.
There is usually a point in the interview process in which the interviewer asks if you have any questions about the company or if you have any additional information about yourself that you would like to add. This is your opportunity to determine if YOU would like to self disclose anything about yourself that would require an employer to provide an accommodation for disability or maternity needs or might lead to an awkward, embarrassing or illegal situation for the employer. Any such disclosure would need to be accommodated by assurances that you can perform the responsibilities of the job.
If you choose to disclose no personal information, then you may come across as secretive, or if you disclose too much, you may be perceived as “needy and high maintenance.” Of course, you don’t want to appear as either.
Bizarre, inappropriate questions are another topic all together. These are the questions which in and of themselves are not illegal, but which make a candidate wonder about the intentions of the interviewer or maybe even his/her mental state – Questions like “If you were at a departmental meeting and a coworker put his hand on your thigh, what would you do?” or “Is your girlfriend white?” Now thinking back, I’m sure we all could make a list of these strange, weird questions.
What has been your strangest interview experience?