Career Development

Illegal Questions

(Adapted from an article by Rochelle Kaplan, General Counsel for the National Association of Colleges and Employers)

Various federal, state and local laws regulate the questions a prospective employer can ask you, the job candidate. An employer’s questions—whether on the job application, in the interview, or during the testing process—must be related to the job you’re seeking. For the employer, the focus must be: "What do I need to know to decide whether this person can perform the functions of this job?"

Illegal Question Legal Question
Are you a US Citizen? Are you authorized to work in the United States?
Where were you born? What languages do you read/write/speak fluently?

If asked an illegal question, you have several options:

  1. You can answer the question—you’re free to do so, if you wish. However, if you choose to answer an illegal question, remember that you are giving information that isn’t related to the job; in fact, you might be giving the "wrong" answer, which could harm your chances of getting the job.
  2. You can refuse to answer the question. Unfortunately, depending on how you phrase your refusal, you run the risk of appearing uncooperative or confrontational—hardly words an employer would use to describe the "ideal" candidate.
  3. You can examine the question for its INTENT and respond with an answer as it might apply to the job.

    For example, the interviewer asks, "Are you a US citizen?" or "What country are you from?" You’ve been asked an illegal question. You could respond, however, with "I am authorized to work in the US." Similarly, let’s say the interviewer asks, "Who is going to take care of your children when you have to travel for the job? You might answer, "I can meet the travel and work schedule that this job requires."