What Can an Employer Ask During an Interview?

You may have spent days preparing for an important interview and researching questions the interview might ask, only for the prospective employer to surprise you with a totally unexpected question. In the heat of the moment, you gave an answer – but looking back, you have a feeling it wasn’t right of the interview to ask. Or perhaps you politely refused to answer, only to have the employer go with a different candidate at the last minute.

Job interviews are nerve-wracking enough without the prospect of someone asking you a biased or illegal interview question. Unfortunately, many employers don’t take the time to learn what they can and cannot ask during an interview. This can lead to tricky situations for prospective hires, in which they feel wronged but aren’t sure what actions they can take against the interviewer. The following are a few questions an employer can and cannot ask for reference.

Cannot Ask

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that it is illegal for employers to ask certain types of questions during employee interviews. Prohibited subjects according to the EEOC include age, genetic information, religion, race or national origin, sexual orientation, sex or gender identity, pregnancy status, citizenship, marital status, and number of children. Examples of questions an employer cannot ask are as follows:

  • Do you own or rent your home?
  • Do you have your own bank account?
  • When did you graduate from high school?
  • Do you have a plan for childcare if offered the job?
  • Can you provide your birth certificate?
  • Do you have a disability? How severe?
  • Are you married or single?
  • How much do you weigh?
  • Are you pregnant or trying to start a family?
  • Where are you from?
  • What denomination are you?

Prohibited questions generally have to do with the employee’s private or personal life, and have nothing to do with the candidate’s ability to carry out the required tasks of the job. You might think a question about age or disability has to do with the job, but really they are just ways for the employer to potentially discriminate against you for the position. These types of questions during an interview should raise red flags.

Can Ask

There are some exceptions to the general rules under the EEOC. For example, an employer may verify that you’re over 18 or whether you’re legally eligible to work in the U.S. Similarly, questions about disabilities and childcare may be lawful as long as the employer asks them after hiring a candidate, for insurance or accommodation purposes only. An employer may ask about a criminal record, but only if it pertains to the responsibilities of the job and prior convictions, not current arrests. Employers may ask questions to help them determine whether a candidate is right for the job, such as educational qualifications and work experience.

Did an Interviewer Ask You Something Inappropriate?

If the employer is guilty of discrimination during onboarding procedures, such as refusing to hire a candidate after learning she wishes to start a family in the next few months, the wronged candidate may be eligible for damages – including reinstatement of the position and attorney’s fees. More importantly, the candidate can shed light on a company, employer, or Human Resources director that engages in illegal hiring practices.

If you believe an employer based a recent hiring decision on your answer or refusal to answer an illegal or discriminatory question, you may have an employment case against the company. Contact an employment attorney in Los Angeles as soon as possible for assistance with your situation. It can be difficult to understand whether you’ve been the victim of discrimination during an interview. A lawyer can investigate and help you understand your rights.