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What Can and Can’t Employers Ask During An Interview?
What Can and Can’t Employers Ask During An Interview?

What Can and Can’t Employers Ask During An Interview?

Job interviews can be highly stressful, and that’s especially true when an applicant is asked an unexpected question during the hiring process. Understanding the line between lawful and unlawful questions can make a significant difference in addressing the situation accordingly. This knowledge not only helps to ensure a fair interview process but also safeguards applicants from potential discrimination. In such situations, the guidance of an experienced attorney can be invaluable. At Minnis & Smallets LLP, our focus is on navigating clients through these intricate employment situations. Employees who believe their rights may have been violated in a job interview should contact our attorneys for a consultation. 

Questions About National Origin

The first category of off-limits questions pertains to the applicant’s national origin. Questions about where the applicant is from or how long they’ve lived in California or the United States might seem innocent, but they can be discriminatory. However, it is lawful for employers to ask if an applicant is authorized to work in the U.S., provided the question does not harbor any discriminatory intent.

Questions About Age

Age-related inquiries are another question that can be discriminatory. Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), direct questions asking an applicant’s age or indirect ones, such as ones asking what year they graduated, are prohibited. Exceptions to this rule exist for roles with minimum age requirements.

Questions About Medical Conditions

Job applicants should also be aware that their health history, medical conditions, injuries or mental health are protected characteristics under FEHA law. The employer is allowed to ask if an applicant can perform the essential duties of the job, given the clearly described duties. If the information is directly related to the job duties, questions about medical conditions may be permissible.

Questions About Criminal History

With the advent of the Fair Chance Act in 2018, asking potential employees about their criminal history became unlawful. Employers with 5 or more employees are restricted from inquiring about a candidate’s criminal history or prior convictions before making a job offer.

Questions About Salary History

While it is acceptable to discuss salary expectations for the job, it is unlawful for employers to ask about an applicant’s previous salary history. This rule ensures that past pay disparities do not perpetuate into future employment.

Questions About Religion

Religion is another protected category under California law. Direct or indirect questions that could reveal the applicant’s religious beliefs are unlawful. Examples include inquiries about what holiday the applicant celebrates.

Questions About Marital Status

Lastly, marital status is a protected characteristic under California’s discrimination laws. Therefore, employers cannot ask direct or indirect questions about an applicant’s marital status during the hiring process.

How an Attorney Can Help

Understanding what constitutes lawful and unlawful questions in an interview can empower job seekers and ensure a fair recruitment process. While this guide provides an overview of the key points, it is by no means exhaustive. The realm of employment law is complex and continually evolving.

At Minnis & Smallets LLP, we are committed to providing personal attention and advice tailored to individual needs. Our experienced attorneys help navigate these complexities, protect legal rights, and advocate powerfully for clients throughout the legal process. Contact us to schedule a consultation. Together, we can ensure workers’ rights are upheld and their professional journey remains free from discrimination.

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