The Law Office of Richard Vaznaugh

Interview / Application

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Applying for a new job can be stressful and time-consuming. It is important to know what to expect so you can be prepared and confident during the application and interview process. The following information explains what kind of questions employers can ask you on an application or in an interview for a new job. Additionally, these questions and answers give information about when and how employers can use drug testing, lie detectors, background checks, and credit checks. Lastly, they discuss illegal discrimination against jobs applicants.

If you are faced with a difficult or illegal question while interviewing for a position that you really want, you may choose to answer the question.  If this happens, try to determine what information the employer is really trying to get. Often the concern is about availability or things that might be necessary to do the job. So, you may be able to explain why you are qualified and share examples from other jobs or experience of how you can do the job.  Nonetheless, if you think you were illegally discriminated against in the job application or interview process, look at our discrimination in employment page for information on filing a claim.

n 1. If I meet the qualifications of the job, do they have to offer me an interview?n

No. Employers may legally choose whom they extend an interview offer to; however, it is illegal for employers to refuse to interview based on forms of discrimination that are prohibited by law. Thus, it is illegal for an employer to refuse to interview you because of your religion, race, national origin, sex, age, or disability. Nonetheless, employers do not have to tell you why they are choosing not to interview you. See workplacefairness.org for more information on discrimination.

n 2. How long should the hiring process take?n There’s no one answer to this question, but the hiring process can take anywhere from a week to 30 or more days. The process’s length varies depending on the specific position and company you’re applying to, the number of applicants for the role and the number of interviews required. Once you have interviewed for the position, you can ask the hiring manager how long the process is expected to take.n 3. In general, what kind of questions can an employer ask me on an employment application or interview?n

In general, employers should only ask you questions about Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications (BFOQ) – or questions related to whether you would be able to perform the job and how you will handle certain employment challenges.

Employers should not ask you about your race, sex, national origin, age, and religion. In addition, employers should not ask questions about your membership in any organizations, clubs, and societies (such as social, religious, or political groups) that may indicate race, sex, national origin, age, or religion).

n 4. Can the potential employer ask me about my age?n

Employers cannot base hiring decisions on age. However, if there are laws on youth employment, the employer may ask questions to ensure compliance with those laws, such as “Are you at least 18 years old?” Generally, though, employers should not ask questions about your age. This would even include indirect questions about age, such as “What year did you graduate from high school?”

For more information on age discrimination in employment see our age discrimination page.

n 5. Can the potential employer ask me about my medications?n

Following the Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications (BFOQ) standard, the employer should only ask if you are taking any medications that could affect your ability to perform the job. Therefore, the only medication information you must disclose in the hiring process is information on such medications.

After you accept a job, the employer will have more rights to access your medical record, but once again, only medications or medical conditions that can affect your ability to perform your job can be used as a reason to fire you.

For more information on medical information in employment see our medical privacy page.

n 6. Can the potential employer ask me if I’m in a union?n

Employers should not ask you whether you are in a union or your opinion on unions. It is considered an “unfair labor practice by the employer” to discriminate in hiring decisions, continued employment or “any term or condition of employment” based on whether an employee is or is not in a union. Ultimately the employees decide whether there is a union and whether they want to be part of it – the employer has no control over this.

For information on your union rights once employed see our unions and collective action page.

n 7. Can the potential employer ask me about my religion?n

Asking about your religion could be a sign of illegal discrimination by the employer. You may choose not to answer such a question. However, an employer can ask questions regarding scheduling when it is a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ) – such as “This job requires you to work weekends, is this a problem?”

For more information about religious discrimination in employment see our religious discrimination page.

n 8. Can the potential employer ask me about my disability?n

It is illegal for an employer to ask you if you have a disability. However, if you have a disability that people can see, or you tell the potential employer that you have a disability or will need an accommodation, the employer can ask you about your disability and what accommodations you will need.

For more information about disability discrimination in employment see our disability discrimination page.

n 9. Can the potential employer ask me to demonstrate that I can do the main parts of the job?n

Yes. The employer can both ask you whether you can perform each of the job requirements, and ask that you demonstrate your ability. Generally, everyone applying for the job should be asked to demonstrate the same job functions. However, if you have a visible disability or have told the potential employer about your disability, they can ask just you to demonstrate your ability to do essential job functions.

n 12. Can the potential employer ask me about my criminal history?n

Generally, potential employers should not ask whether you have been arrested, but in some states they may ask about whether you have ever been convicted of a crime. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notes that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from treating people with similar criminal records differently because of their race, national origin, or another Title VII-protected characteristic (which includes color, sex, and religion). Furthermore, Title VII prohibits employers from using policies or practices that screen individuals based on criminal history information if:

  • They significantly disadvantage Title VII-protected individuals such as African Americans and Hispanics; AND
  • They do not help the employer accurately decide if the person is likely to be a responsible, reliable, or safe employee.

For more information on ways that employers can use your criminal history see our criminal records page.

n 16. Can the potential employer use my credit report as a reason not to hire me?n

Yes, if your credit is relevant to the job. If the employer decides not to hire you based on your credit report, they must give you the name, address, and phone number of the company that supplied the credit report or background information; give you a statement that the company that supplied the information didn’t make the decision to take the adverse action, and that the company can’t give you any specific reasons for it; give you a notice of your right to dispute the accuracy or completeness of any information in your report, and to get an additional free report from the company that supplied the credit or other background information if you ask for it within 60 days.

See workplacefairness.org for more information on credit checks in employment. 

n 17. Can the potential employer require a physical medical examination during the application/interview process?n

No. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) limits when employers can require physical medical examinations to post-offer situations when the physical examination results are related to the employee’s ability to perform the job.

See workplacefairness.org for more information on medical privacy in employment. 

n 18. Can the potential employer require me to take a lie detector test?n

The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 (EPPA) limits the use of lie detector tests in private employment to security service firms (armored car, alarm, and guard) and pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, and dispensers. If you are interviewing with a private employer outside of these exceptions, they may not ask you to take a lie detector test.

n 19. Can the potential employer require me to complete a personality and/or honesty test?n

Yes, if the tests don’t ask intrusive personal questions — such as questions about your sex life. Additionally, these tests should be given to all applicants instead of a selected few.

n 20. Can the potential employer require me to take a drug test?n

Most private employers may require pre-employment drug tests; however, they may only be given post job offer. Thus, if you are just applying for a job and they have extended no offer of employment yet, the employer cannot require a drug test at that time.

See workplacefairness.org for more information on drug tests and employment. 

n 21. Can the potential employer require me to be fingerprinted as part of the application/interview process?n

Generally no. Employers may only require finger printing if they fall into a special legal category such as hospitals, public schools, a job involving firearms, pharmaceuticals, and some public jobs.

n 22. Can a potential employer use my presence on social media in the hiring process?n

Yes, as long as they are not using the information they find out about you on social media to discriminate on an illegal basis such as age, race, disability, religion, national origin, or gender. See workplacefairness.org for more information on social media and employment. 

n 23. Can the potential employer ask me my height and weight?n

Unless the employee’s height and weight is directly job-related, an employer should not ask you your height and weight. This inquiry tends to disqualify applicants from protected groups, so it should not be used unless it is job-related. Many states have enacted laws prohibiting this kind of discrimination unless it is based on actual job requirements.

n 24. Can the potential employer ask me about my financial information?n

Yes. Employers can ask you about personal finances as long as the employer is using the information to help accurately identify responsible and reliable employees, and the same financial information is asked of all applicants of the same position. However, if the use of financial information tends to most often disqualify people of a particular race, color, national origin, religion, or sex it can be deemed illegal by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If someone’s disability affects his or her personal financial situation, the employer may have to make an exception for the applicant. 

This “financial information” includes current or past assets, liabilities, credit rating, bankruptcy or garnishment, refusal or cancellation of bonding, car ownership, rental or ownership of a house, length of residence at an address, charge accounts, furniture ownership, or bank accounts.

n 25. Can the potential employer ask me about periods of unemployment?n

Employers can ask you about periods of unemployment if the employer is using the information to help accurately identify responsible and reliable employees, and the effect of screening out applicants based on periods of unemployment is applied to all applicants equally. Additionally, if screening out potential employees based on periods of unemployment tends to most often disqualify people of a particular race, color, national origin, religion, or sex, it can be deemed illegal by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). As with financial information, if the reason for periods of unemployment is related to the applicant’s disability, the employer may have to make an exception for the applicant.

n 26. What happens if the employer finds out something on my resume wasn’t true?n

If the employer finds out that you lied on your resume, you will likely be fired. You should not misrepresent yourself when applying for a job. Besides embarrassment and job loss, in some cases, employee misrepresentation can even lead to criminal charges.

n 27. What if the employer’s policies and practices tend to disqualify applicants or employees of a particular race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, employees who are pregnant, or employees who are disabled?n

If a policy or practice that seems neutral or legal on its face tends to disqualify applicants or employees of a particular race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, employees who are pregnant, or employees who are disabled, the practice may be illegal. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prohibits the use of such practices when they are not job-related or necessary to the operation of the business.

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Specifically, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. These laws protect you against employment discrimination when it involves:

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  • unfair treatment because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information;
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  • harassment by managers, co-workers, or others in your workplace, because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information;
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  • denial of a reasonable workplace accommodation that you need because of your religious beliefs or disability; or
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  • retaliation because you complained about job discrimination, or assisted with a job discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

n 28. Where can I get more information about applying and interviewing for jobs?n

For more information on this topic see the EEOC page on prohibited practices.