Employment attorneys know firsthand how difficult issues surrounding labor law can be. Often, this is because workers don’t know the employee laws that protect them — or are so desperate to find work that they overlook misconduct even when they know it’s illegal. If you’re currently looking for a job, however, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on your rights as an employee; after all, you don’t want to set yourself up for a job where the employer won’t treat you fairly. Complying with federal labor laws starts in the interview and hiring process, so you should be aware that there are certain questions a prospective employer isn’t legally allowed to ask you. Here are five questions employment attorneys wish workers knew they don’t have to answer at any point during the interview process or their tenure at a company:
Obviously, you should judge the intent behind this question before deciding if you should refuse to answer. If you’ve just complimented your interviewer on a cute family photo on the desk and they ask in return if you have kids too, then there’s no need to break that rapport by snapping. But you should know that an employer isn’t technically allowed to ask, and may sometimes do so in order to assess whether you’ll be fully committed to your job. The same reasoning applies to questions of whether you’re married or in a relationship.
Employers aren’t allowed to ask about your national origin, but they may ask if you’re authorized to work in the United States. Similarly, they can’t ask what your first language is, but can ask what languages you speak fluently. Again, it’s wise to judge intent when deciding the manner and tone of your response.
An employer is permitted to ask if you’ve been convicted of a crime, but isn’t allowed to ask about your arrest record.
An employer isn’t allowed to ask about your religion, even to gauge your ability to work on certain holidays or days of the week. They must instead pose the question directly; they can ask, for example, whether you’re available to work on Sundays.
An employer can inquire about current drug use, but not past use. This is because if you’re a recovering addict, for example, the Americans With Disabilities Act protects your privacy. The same reasoning applies to alcohol use, so your employer is not allowed to ask you if you drink.
If an employer has asked you any of these questions or fired you because of your answers to them, you should also know to speak to employment attorneys about a unfair dismissal claim (also known as wrongful dismissal or illegal firing).
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