Discriminative job interview topics
There's plenty of overlap between what's inappropriate in a job interview and the workplace; topics that are off-limits for an employer to ask you about during the hiring process usually remain that way once you have the job as well. These rules aim to minimize the chances of job candidates facing discrimination.
For example, an employer isn't allowed to ask how old you are in a job interview. This includes asking when you graduated high school or postsecondary, attempting to get a general idea of your age. This usually prevents younger job candidates from having an advantage over older ones.
The Federal government implemented the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
, making it illegal to create a hostile work environment by discriminating against someone for being older than 40 years old. Some states favor employers
, while others have regulations that better protect employees. For example, 14 states also passed state laws prohibiting age discrimination against young employees
. These states include: Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Vermont.
Your national origin and ancestry are also sensitive topics that an interviewer needs to avoid. A company can’t refuse to hire you based on your race or where you were born. Even asking about your accent or where your parents are from is prohibited.
Employers can only ask if you can legally work in the country. In addition, employers are recommended to only ask about your national origin for lawful purposes, such as complying with government laws that require reporting information on ethnicity.
Religious or political beliefs
Your religious and political beliefs are more topics you shouldn't have to discuss
during the hiring process
. In extreme cases, an interviewer might show prejudice towards your views. However, even interviewers who consider themselves accepting of all beliefs might have unconscious biases
that factor into their decisions. Once an employer learns information, it can't be unlearned.
For example, an employer can't ask you if you belong to any groups outside of work. This seemingly innocent question can have the unintended consequence of revealing your political or religious beliefs. If the interviewer wants to know if you can meet the job’s scheduling demands, they’ll need to find a different way to go about it.
Gender or sexual identity
You can refuse to answer questions relating to your gender identity and sexual orientation as well. There may be some jobs where the topic is unavoidable because it's directly related to the position, such as interviewing to be a model for a gender-specific clothing store, but the subject is generally deemed irrelevant to the job.
This rule even extends to questions that might humor the job applicant's sexist views. For instance, an interviewer can't ask if you prefer to work with or be supervised by a particular gender.
Homelife, background, and family
Questions that gather information about your marital status, children, and family also need to be avoided by the interviewer during the hiring process. Although these topics might seem like innocent small talk, they can also trigger assumptions about how your home life might affect your work life in the future.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management
, 45% of U.S. employers still don't offer paid maternity leave, and 55% don't offer paid paternity leave. A person wouldn't be blamed for wondering in a job interview if these companies also aren't enthusiastic about hiring someone who will eventually take unpaid leave.
An employer might be inclined to favor a candidate who isn't having children in the future. That's why an interviewer shouldn’t ask you about your marital status, plans relating to children, or even what your spouse does for work. The purpose is to reduce the chances that the employer makes any negative assumptions about how you'll divide your attention between work and personal life if you get the job.