Job applicants are often encouraged to prepare for an interview by researching their potential employer and anticipating certain questions. An applicant may be so set on thinking of how to answer questions, they may not realize there are certain questions employers may not ask. In fact, asking certain questions that would compromise an applicant’s privacy are prohibited by law, and can even be considered discriminatory if an applicant is not hired based on an answer to one of those questions.
In general, interview questions should relate to the skills and background necessary to do the job. For example, the employer can ask whether you are able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation, but questions about an applicant’s age, marital status, sexual orientation or religious affiliation are irrelevant. In fact, not hiring someone based upon gender, religion, or race is illegal. Furthermore, questions pertaining to disabilities, medical history, pregnancy, future childbearing plans, unwed motherhood, or child care are all illegal.
Usually, employers can legally ask if you have been convicted of a crime or arrested and whether you are still facing trial on criminal charges for that arrest. However, for example, in California an employer normally cannot ask about a conviction in which the records were sealed, or about any marijuana conviction that took place more than two years ago. An employer cannot ask if you’ve ever been arrested if the arrest did not result in a conviction, plea, verdict, or finding of guilt. If an employer does find out about a past arrest, it cannot affect employment decisions. This protection applies to job applicants and current employees seeking a promotion, but there are exceptions involving police officers and certain other workers.
Questions relating to drugs or alcohol are generally not appropriate for interview questions, especially if it seems the employer is trying to establish whether the applicant has been to rehab. That said, an employer can inquire into whether an applicant uses illegal drugs, and they can ask an applicant to take a drug test.
Finally, employers may not ask whether you have ever filed a workers’ compensation claim. Employees have the right to file for workers’ compensation for job-related injuries, and this cannot serve to later limit an individual’s ability to seek employment elsewhere.