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Discrimination in a job interview

When you hear about discrimination in the workplace, you probably envision experiencing challenges as an employee on the clock. While most cases reflect these circumstances, sometimes the discrimination can happen even before becoming an employee. It can also be a part of the hiring process.

One step in that process is the job interview. The law dictates what interviewers can and cannot say in this meeting to prevent discriminatory questions and comments. If you hear them anyway in your next interview, you may be able to take legal action.

Examples of inappropriate questions

The interviewer should avoid asking questions concerning protected classes, such as age, gender, race, religion or health. Examples of what they cannot ask include the following:

  • How many kids do you have?
  • Do you plan on having children?
  • What are your child care arrangements?
  • Are you OK with working under younger managers?
  • Is English your native language?
  • Where is your accent from?
  • Have you had any medical problems recently?
  • What is your maiden name?
  • When did you graduate from high school?
  • Are you a homeowner?
  • Where do you live?
  • Are you [insert sexual orientation]?
  • What is your ethnicity?

The reason these are unacceptable is that they can lead to bias that prevents you from getting a position you are qualified for. The above information is irrelevant to work performance and cannot play a role in the decision to hire you. If they do affect the decision, it is discriminatory. You should be able to get a job based on your skills, not your financial, familial or racial status. Even if the interviewer just seems innocently curious, conversational or friendly, you do not have to answer.

Legal questions

The interviewer has permission to ask you if you can legally work in the U.S. and have a reliable way to get to work. He or she can ask about general schedule availability without trying to find out religious observances or family responsibilities. Questions about health must only revolve around your ability to perform job tasks, and age is only relevant to satisfy a legal requirement, such as working in a bar. 

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