Can They Ask That?  Illegal Interview Topics
During a recent poll on interviews, Salary.com received an alarming number of reports from people who had been asked highly inappropriate questions during an interview.  They have taken this opportunity to review questionable interview topics.
This presentation, however, is not comprehensive, nor is it a replacement for a legal consultation. At the end, Salary.com will provide you with important contact information to use if you feel you have been discriminated against.

Topic: Race
15.0% of readers had been asked about this
20.7% felt discriminated against on this topic

Topic is:  Illegal

Details: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to make hiring decisions based on race or perceptions of race.
However, this law only applies to companies with 15 or more employees.

Topic: Gender
14.6% of readers had been asked about this
29.0% felt discriminated against on this topic

Topic is:  Illegal

Details: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also made it illegal to make hiring decisions based on gender.
Again, this law only applies to companies with 15 or more employees.

Topic: Religion
13.7% of readers had been asked about this
9.8% felt discriminated against on this topic

Topic is:  Illegal

Details:  An employer may not ask you about your religious beliefs, what holidays you celebrate, or what religious institution you belong to.
However, this law only applies to companies with 15 or more employees, and religious institutions are exempt.

Topic: Marital Status
53.9% of readers had been asked about this
18.3% felt discriminated against on this topic

Topic is:  Illegal (in some states)

Details: In 20 U.S. states, an employer may not ask you if you are married, widowed, divorced, intend to be married, are in a committed relationship or how many times you have been married.  They may not make decisions based on your marital status or their perception of your marital status.

Topic: Family Status
49.2% of readers had been asked about this
22.3% felt discriminated against on this topic

Topic is:  Illegal

Details: Employers may not ask you about your family or plans for your family.  They may not ask about the number or age of your children.  They may not ask if you intend to have children.  And they may not ask about the living arrangements of your children.  It is even illegal for employers to refuse to hire a visibly pregnant woman based on her pregnancy.
However, this law only applies to companies with 15 or more employees.

Topic: Age
36.3% of readers had been asked about this
41.7% felt discriminated against on this topic

Topic is:  Illegal (in some cases)

Details: The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibits discrimination against potential employees over the age of 40.
The Age Discrimination Act of 1975  prevents agencies receiving federal funding from discriminating against potential employees on the basis of age - for all age groups.
It is also important to note that minors have certain restrictions on the types of work, work times and number of hours per week they are allowed to work.  This may cause them to be excluded from certain types of employment.

Topic: Physical Disabilities
22.8% of readers had been asked about this
8.9% felt discriminated against on this topic

Topic is:  Illegal (with exceptions)

Details: A company may not discriminate against a qualified person based on certain physical disabilities.  An employer may require a physical examination of an employee but only after making a job offer and only if all employees are subject to the same examination.
However, this may not apply to companies with fewer than 15 employees.

Topic: Ethnic Background
18.4% of readers had been asked about this
16.1% felt discriminated against on this topic

Topic is:  Illegal

Details: Asking questions about a person’s ethnic background or ancestry is another violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Again, this act only applies to companies with 15 or more employees.

Topic: Country of Origin
19.6% of readers had been asked about this
7.5% felt discriminated against on this topic

Topic is:  Illegal

Details: It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a potential employee based upon U.S. citizenship status or a person’s country of origin.
However, it is legal and required to ask all potential employees if they are authorized to work in the United States.  Also, this rule only applies to companies with 15 or more employees.

Topic: Sexual Preference
3.0% of readers had been asked about this
4.1% felt discriminated against on this topic

Topic is:  Illegal  (in most states)

Details: A proposed bill called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is currently before congress and if passed, it would make discrimination based on sexual preference illegal at the federal level.

Currently 25 states and the District of Columbia have laws that protect against potential employers discriminating against potential employees on the basis of sexual preference.
However, in five of those states the laws only apply to employers with public workplaces.

Topic: Military Service
31.3% of readers had been asked about this
6.4% felt discriminated against on this topic

Topic is:  Borderline

Details: The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of current or past military service.   An employer can ask you about military experience as an example of former employment, but should not ask how you were discharged or if your current military service will interfere with your ability to do your job.
However, if you are applying for a job with the federal government, you may be asked about your military service because the Veterans' Employment Opportunities Acts (VEOA) of 1998 and 1944 entitle veterans to receive preference when applying for federal jobs.

Topic: Membership in a Club or Organization
15.0% of readers had been asked about this
20.7% felt discriminated against on this topic

Topic is:  Legal (but dangerous)

Details: It is perfectly legal to ask about organizations that are relevant to the job, such as trade organizations.  

However, employers should not ask about organizations that would reveal information that might be protected such as age, ethnicity, sexual preference or religion. 

Topic: Height or Weight
10.1% of readers had been asked about this
18.8% felt discriminated against on this topic

Topic is:  Legal (with exceptions)

Details: While it is not specifically illegal to discriminate against a person based on height and weight, it is illegal to do so if the same restrictions are not applied to all employees in the same way or are used to hide another type of discrimination. 
For example, the cases of Gerdom v. Continental Airlines Inc. and Independent Union of Flight Attendants v. Pan American World Airways, Inc. established that having different weight requirements for Males and Females was in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Here are a few resources that may be helpful to you if you feel you have been discriminated against in an interview.
Race, Gender, Religion, Ethnicity, Age, Disability, Country of Origin, Marital Status, Family Status
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Phone: 1-800-669-4000
Email: info@eeoc.gov

Military Service
U.S. Department of Labor
Online Form: http://www.dol.gov/elaws/vets/userra/ee_disc2.asp
Phone: 1-866-4-USA-DOL

Sexual Preference
Please find the information for your state on this list http://www.eeocoffice.com/