Job seekers, take note of illegal questioning

TaLeiza CallowayColumn, Opinion, St. JosephLeave a Comment

As if concern about economic recovery is not enough to worry about, job seekers have something else to add to their list of woes.

Not only do those seeking employment have to think about how to get their resume to the top of a pile, but what they should and should not be asked to disclose during a job interview.  Legally speaking, everything is not on the table.

I once thought, the more I say, the better. Some career coaches might even encourage those in the market to share, share and share some more. However, there are some questions employers can’t lawfully ask interviewees because of what it reveals about them.

I was surprised to learn this recently. Surfing the web can be a good way to pass the time, but it can also be educational. A “Business Insider” article listed some common interview questions that are actually illegal.

The most surprising thing about the article was the questions that are deemed off-limits seem harmless. They are also questions that would not signal red flags because they are common and even friendly. This is probably why it’s good to know more about them.

Think about the last time you were filling out a job application. The form is the same or very similar. It requires you fill in your name, address, date of birth, education information and previous employment. Seems pretty standard, right?

Consider the following questions and why they are illegal for employers to ask.

1.  Have you ever been arrested?

Employers have the right to know if you have been convicted of a crime but not if you were arrested. It is also important to note depending on the state and type of offense, a conviction can’t automatically disqualify you for a job.

2.  Are you married?

This is a no-no. It is illegal because it reveals your marital status and can reveal sexual orientation.

3.  Do you have children?

While this is not unlawful, it is inappropriate. As I read this, I thought an employer might ask this as an attempt to be conversational. Nevertheless, if a question is not relevant to the job one is applying for, then it does not belong in the interview setting.

4. What country are you from?

This might seem innocent but is illegal because it involves your national origin. Employers can ask if you’re authorized to work in a certain country but not about your nationality.

5. Do you have any outstanding debt?

I was surprised to see this question. One of the reasons many people need a job is to help take care of outstanding debt. Maybe, it’s just me but I don’t see why this would even come up in an interview. The author of the article said employers must have permission before inquiring about credit history, and job seekers can’t be disqualified from employment unless it affects their ability to perform the duties required of the job sought.

6.  Do you socially drink?

Who would ask a potential employee this? Well, any employer who does would be in violation of the American Disabilities Act. Employers cannot ask about drinking or legal drug use.

These are just some of the examples listed in the article. The more I read, the more I thought to myself, “I wonder if employers know what they are asking before they ask it?” I’m sure the answer is “yes” because most businesses (can we assume?) are trained.

What about the job seekers? With debt looming, needs piling up and sometimes hope dwindling, the last thing interviewees need to worry about is if the person interviewing them is following the law.

Job seekers, beware. Employers, follow the law.

Author: TaLeiza Calloway

TaLeiza Calloway is a professional journalist in Central Minnesota. Her byline has appeared in the St. Cloud Times and Central Minnesota Women Magazine. The Ohio native moved to Minnesota about four years ago. She joined the St. Joseph Newsleader staff as a reporter in November 2011.

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