Applying and interviewing for work can be a challenging and stressful process for job seekers. In addition, job applications and interviews can raise a number of legal issues with respect to what types of questions an employer is not allowed to ask, how much information can be collected, and what applicants should do at each of these stages. Below, you can find information on the laws surrounding the job application and interview process. You should also download FindLaw's Guide to Hiring [pdf] to make sure you know your rights in the job seeking process. Also, check out our Guide to Interviewing [PDF] for a quick, comprehensive, guide to the all-important interview process.
Legal Do's and Don'ts
Even at the interviewing phase some rights and obligations exist for both parties. By knowing your obligations and the information you are entitled to you can get the most out of your interview while also avoiding common errors or even legal liability.
- Confirm you have good references available.
- Consent to a background check.
- Provide proof of your lawful status in the U.S.
- Give consent to routine pre-employment drug screening.
- Ask about safety programs and equipment.
- Get a job offer in writing including the terms of employment.
- Lie on your resume or application.
- Feel obligated to answer personal questions, such as whether you are married or have children. Don't feel obligated to answer questions about your politics or religion.
- Assume you can dress however you want at the interview or after being hired. Companies have the right to impose a reasonable dress code.
Illegal Job Interview Questions
Some questions are prohibited by law. Typically, these forbidden questions relate to discrimination. There are laws that protect an applicant from discrimination on account of their sexual orientation, race, religion, marital status, age, or another aspect of their identity and the prohibition on asking certain questions exists to protect applicants from exposing information about themselves that may result in discrimination and doesn't otherwise relate to their potential employment.
Both employers and potential future employees should be concerned and aware of forbidden interview questions. For employers, an awareness of the questions can help prevent exposure to allegations of discrimination or inadvertent infringements upon the privacy of applicants. Applicants should be aware of forbidden questions so that they can be aware if their civil rights are being violated.
Legal Rights During the Hiring Process
As previously indicated, some topics are generally off-limits to potential employers. Questions about the applicant's children or family planning, marital status, race, religion, sexual preference, age, disability, citizenship status, or questions about drug or alcohol use are generally impermissible. The applicant may raise these issues, in which case the employer is permitted to address them to the extent necessary to answer the applicant's questions.
There are certain documents an employer may require before the applicant starts working. Documents such as the federal employment identification number, registration for unemployment compensation tax, workers comp insurance, an Illness and Prevention Plan for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), notice posting as required by the Department of Labor (DOL), or registration for company benefits may be required before starting work.
Contact an employment attorney if your rights are violated during the hiring process.