Illegal Interview Questions in California

Posted by Sessions & Kimball |

In California, like many other states, there are legal protections in place to prevent employment discrimination. To that end, some questions during job interviews are deemed illegal as they may lead to biased and unfair hiring decisions. Some of the most common illegal inquiries that take place during interviews include the following:

“Are you married?”

Asking about marital status during a job interview in California is considered an unlawful inquiry under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). This question can be seen as inappropriate because it can lead to discrimination against applicants based on their marital status. 

“Are you planning on having children?”

Similarly, asking about a candidate’s plans for family or potential pregnancies is considered a discriminatory practice under federal law with Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and FEHA at the state level. These laws prohibit employers from discriminating against individuals due to circumstances related to pregnancy or future family plans.

“How old are you?”

This is another impermissible question during job interviews in California as it falls under the protections of age discrimination by the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The intention behind banning this question centers on preventing biases against hiring individuals based on their age, especially those over 40 who often bear the brunt of discriminatory practices.

These protections extend to indirect attempts at discerning a person’s age as well, like questions about when you graduated from high school or college.

“What religion are you?”

Questions related to religious beliefs are also prohibited during job interviews in California. This prohibition intends to prevent employers from discriminating against candidates based on their spiritual beliefs or practices – whether it be specific religious observances, worship attendance, or non-religious philosophies.

“Do you have any medical conditions?”

Asking this question during a job interview is generally considered illegal in California. Such prohibitions stem from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) governing the federal level, and the accompanying state-level legislation implemented via California’s FEHA.

Certain exceptions apply, like when an employee’s health condition directly impacts their ability to perform key functions related to the role. In these cases, questions about medical history may be permitted.

“Do you have a criminal history?”

In California, employers are not allowed to ask certain questions about a potential employee’s criminal history. This is a result of the Fair Chance Act, commonly known as “ban the box” law.

The “ban the box” legislation applies to employers with five or more employees and restricts them from inquiring about a candidate’s criminal history before extending a conditional job offer. The aim of this law is to ensure fair employment opportunities for everyone, including those who have previously been convicted of a crime.

Individualized Assessment Required

Even after extending a job offer, an employer in California cannot simply deny employment based on previous convictions. They are obligated to make what’s known as an ‘individualized assessment.’

“After offering you a job, employers are allowed to conduct a criminal history check, but the law requires an individualized assessment of your conviction history. That means that an employer can’t take back the job offer without considering the nature and gravity of the criminal history, the time that has passed since the conviction, and the nature of the job you are seeking. If the employer decides to take back the job offer based on your criminal history, they must tell you so in writing, provide a copy of any conviction history report they relied on, and give you at least five business days to respond.”

California carries strict laws to prevent employment discrimination. If you believe you’ve been discriminated against in any way, you have legal recourse. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.