Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, April 21, 2023

Career Corner: You can’t ask me that: Illegal job interviews questions

Asking illegal questions to candidates during job interviews is so normal that we almost forget where the boundaries exist. In the U.S., employers are not allowed to ask questions around marital status, pregnancy, age, nationality and so much more. Yet, they do.

Sometimes, companies ask these questions overtly; other times, the questions come in an indirect way.

I have been asked many of these questions in interviews over the years. Each time, I feel the disappointment that my accomplishments and skills don’t seem to be enough. And, it is disappointing that employers feel so comfortable crossing legal and ethical boundaries.

Once, in a single interview, a c-level executive of a well-known restaurant chain asked “Are you married? Do you have children? Do you have plans to have any children soon?” In other interviews, I’ve been asked if I have a husband or a boyfriend.

I’ve been asked how I feel about being older than the people I’ll be working with. Recently, I was asked if I had taken maternity leave while at a previous job.

I was once asked extensive questions around my availability for travel. Multiple interviewers wanted to know if I’m able to fly. They wanted to know if I can be away from home and if it’s OK to be away for long periods of time.

At first, I felt confused. I had never been asked so many questions around how I feel about travel. Typically, I’m asked if I’m open to travel and we move on. But it dawned on me the employer might have been trying to discern if I have young children who would need to be taken care of.

All of these questions came during job interviews. They were asked by professional, highly educated individuals. I’m certain these folks were aware of what they should and should not ask.

When I share these unfortunate stories with friends, their reaction is always the same. “These questions are illegal. How can anyone ask these questions? This is not allowed.”

The problem is companies risk very little by asking candidates such questions. As a job seeker, you would first need to prove that these questions were asked. I don’t know about you, but I have never been one to record my job interviews.

Second, you would need to prove your response to the questions was the reason you weren’t hired.

As a job seeker, your primary goal is to land a job. This is why few candidates pursue these issues, and it’s the reason that companies are able to continue on with these unfortunate questions.

What can you do if this happens to you? The most important thing is to think about how you feel. Is this the kind of company you’d like to work for? Use the information you learn to help you to decide if this company aligns to your values.

Angela Copeland, a leadership and career expert, can be reached at www.angelacopeland.com.