Unlawful Job Interview Questions in California

By Assaf Lichtash

Almost every employee knows that he or she is protected by federal and state laws from unlawful discrimination in the workplace. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination based on their race, color, religion, sex and national origin. In addition, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protects from workplace discrimination based on age, ancestry, disability, marital status, medical conditions, genetic information, military and veteran status, gender identity or gender expression, and sexual orientation.

However, these laws further protect Californians before any formal employment relationship is established. For example, employers are prohibited from making any hiring decisions based on the above protected factors. Therefore, there are many restrictions on the types of application and/or interview questions that employers may ask of job candidates in order to prevent unlawful discrimination.

Job applicants should be aware of their rights when it comes to application and interview questioning. If an employer asks an unlawful question, an applicant should politely refuse to answer it to help ensure no discrimination is taking place. The following is a guide to assist California applicants in identifying wrongful or potentially discriminatory pre-employment questions.

Acceptable and Unacceptable Pre-Employment Questions

Topic: Race or Color
Unaceptable Questions:What is your race? What is your skin, hair, or eye color?
Acceptable Questions: Questions about race and color are never acceptable.

Topic: National Origin
Unceptable Questions: Where were you or your parents/spouse born? What is your nationality, ancestry, lineage, or parentage?
Acceptable Questions: Are you legally allowed to work in the United States? Can you speak a language besides English that is relevant to this position?

Topic: Age
Unacceptable Questions: What is your age? What is your birth date? When did you complete school?
Acceptable Questions: Do you meet the legal age requirement to work?

Topic: Religion
Unacceptable Questions: What is your religion? What are your days of religious observance?
Acceptable Questions: What days, hours, or shifts may you regularly work?

Topic: Disability
Unacceptable Questions: Are you generally healthy?Do you have or have you had in the past a mental or physical disability?Do you have or have you had in the past any other medical condition?
Acceptable Questions: Are you physically and mentally able to perform the essential functions of this job? Would you undergo a mental or physical examination if you were offered employment?

Topic: Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity
Unaceptable Questions: What is your sexual orientation or gender identity?
Acceptable Questions: Questions about sexual orientation or gender identity are never acceptable.

Topic: Marital and Familial Status
Unacceptable Questions: Are you married? Do you have children or other dependents?Are you pregnant? Do you plan to become pregnant? Do you use birth control? What are the names of your spouse or other relatives?
Acceptable Questions: If you are a minor employee, who is your parent or guardian? Do you have relatives who work at this company?

Topic: Residence
Unacceptable Questions: Do you rent or own your home?
Acceptable Questions: What is your address?

Topic: Military Status
Unacceptable Questions: When did you serve in the military? When and why were you discharged from the military? Have you served in a foreign military?
Acceptable Questions: Do you have any skills relevant to this position that you acquired through your service in the US military?

Hopefully the above chart may serve as a guide for California job-seekers when filling out application forms or entering interviews.

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