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Illegal interview questions in California

In a competitive job market, factors such as skills, experience and attitude should determine eligibility for a job. However, even those who meet the requirements and come in for an interview can receive unfair judgment.

Discrimination can and does happen even before an employer hires you. During the interview, certain questions are off the table to ensure a fair assessment. Yet, these questions often still come up, so it is important you recognize them.

Inappropriate topics

The only appropriate questions are those that pertain to the job position. That means anything else about your life is irrelevant and private.

  • Your personal background: While it is natural for employees to look for and consider your educational and occupational background, anything beyond that is unacceptable. Interviewers cannot ask you questions that would identify your race, ethnicity, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation or other class that receives protection under the law. 
  • Your personal life: In addition to your background, the lifestyle choices you make are also off limits. For example, your employer does not need to know if you attend church, are getting married or plan on having children. Facts such as who lives with you and in what type of housing are irrelevant to the job.
  • Your previous job: In California, your previous salary is not information a potential employer can request, though you can choose to offer it on your own. A legal alternative to this question is how much you expect your wages to be. Other topics the interviewer cannot inquire about include workers' compensation claims and cases regarding sexual harassment or discrimination.

Example questions

This information may seem straightforward, but sometimes, the phrasing of the question can make it harder to discern discrimination. You may hear the following seemingly innocent inquiries:

  • What is your maiden name?
  • How old are your children?
  • When did you serve in the military?
  • What holidays do you celebrate?

Sometimes, you can help to avoid these questions by not engaging in friendly conversation with your interviewer.

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