illegal questions


 Say what??What would you do in this scenario;  you are in an interview, and the interviewer notices your wedding band, then makes some off-handed remark about having children and suggests that you are ‘probably’ of an age where you would want to ‘get going’ on having a family… How do you respond?  Are these types of statements and questions illegal? Do you actually have to answer the implied question?  These kinds of ambiguous leading statements are not directly illegal, however their motivation to pry for an answer may be.

There are what are called ‘protected characteristics’ in employment law.  Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of the following characteristics; age, race, gender, pregnancy, national origin, religion and disability.  Most states have their own additional protected characteristics, which may include; marital status, sexual orientation or weight.  If you are currently seeking a job, you ought to know the protected characteristics for your state and can find them by visiting the Department of Labor’s website for your state. 

Now, back to the problem at hand…  You’ve either been asked a direct question that you know is illegal, or you’ve been asked a ‘grey area’ question such as our example above.  What do you do?  You actually have a few options, depending upon the situation and the way the question is phrased.

  • Give a very brief answer to the question without including additional explanations
  • If the question is offensive and blatantly illegal, you are within your rights to say so, and end the interview.  Depending upon the severity of the offense, you may even go so far as to ask to speak to the interviewer’s manager. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen much.
  • Instead of answering the question itself, answer the implied question- In our example above; when comments are made about you being ready to start a family, you might say something like, “I am very happy with the direction of my career right now and that is my only focus for the foreseeable future.”
  • If the interviewer is openly prying and the questions are ambiguous and indirect,  as with our example, you might respond by pausing, then saying, “Is there a question in there that you would like to ask me?”.  This will accomplish two things; it will most likely get the interviewer to back-down because they are aware of what they can not ask, and it will inform them that you are educated in some fundamentals of employment and corporate law.  As they say; knowledge is power.