What to Do About Discrimination During a Job Interview

Employment Law News | July 22, 2021

In the United States, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against any prospective or current employee based on certain protected characteristics, such as race, gender, disability, and religion. Unfortunately, not all employers adhere to these rules—especially during the interview process.

During a job interview, an employer may ask inappropriate questions or decide not to hire an applicant based on discriminatory criteria. If you believe that a prospective employer discriminated against you during the hiring process, you may have grounds for legal action.

 Employer Obligations During Hiring

Under federal law, employers cannot discriminate against applicants based on their race, national origin, age, disability, religion, or pregnancy. The New York State Human Rights Law also prohibits discrimination based on marital status, skin color, or birth control status. Employers must abide by applicable anti-discrimination laws during each stage of the hiring process, from recruitment to interviewing to the final selection.

However, employers may discriminate on some bases if a bona fide occupational qualification exists, or if the trait is a necessary and valid requirement for the job. These exceptions are extremely rare but may occur. For example, an employer may require a pilot to be under a certain age for safety purposes, or a clothing company may advertise for female models specifically. In most cases, however, race is not a valid basis for a bona fide occupational qualification.

New York employers are also prohibited from discriminating based on a prospective employer’s arrest record. However, an employer may deny a person with a criminal record a job if the conviction relates directly to his or her job duties or if the person would be a risk to workplace safety. For example, if a person with a child molestation conviction applies for a job as a caregiver, the employer can legally deny the applicant on the basis of his or her criminal record.

What Employers Aren’t Allowed to Ask

During an interview, employers are allowed to ask relevant questions about the candidate’s work experience, background, and interest in the position. However, employers should not ask any questions about protected classes under United States discrimination laws.

It is not technically illegal for an employer to ask a question about these protected characteristics unless he or she uses this information to deny an applicant. If you do encounter these questions, however, it could be a red flag. Types of questions that employers should avoid include the following.

  • Information about your race, religion, or sexual preference
  • Whether or not you are married
  • Whether or not you have children or intend to have children
  • Whether or not you have a disability
  • Whether or not you are a citizen of the United States
  • Questions about your alcohol or drug use
  • Questions about your age, except when asking if you are over the age of 18

What to Do If You Suspect Discrimination

If you encounter an inappropriate question during the hiring process, trust your instincts. You do not have to answer these questions if you feel uncomfortable doing so. In the moment, you can offer a light and generic answer to the question—do not feel pressured to divulge information that you are not comfortable sharing.

If you suspect that a prospective employer is discriminating against you during the hiring process, you could file an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint against him or her. A lawyer can guide you through the complaint process and gather evidence, such as memos, firing records, emails, and applications, to prove your claim and hold the employer accountable. As soon as possible following the interview, contact a New York workplace discrimination attorney