There Are Some Things Employers Can’t Ask
Employee Rights Attorney
Mission Viejo, California
Q: “When a job applicant is providing information, is an employer allowed to ask whether he has ever filed for unemployment?”
A: “A variety of laws restrict employers from asking certain questions in the hiring process. Questions that even hint at a discriminatory bias of the employer or violate certain rights of privacy are inappropriate, for example. Inquiries that identify an applicant’s sex, age, race, color, national origin, ancestry, marital status, religion, physical handicap or medical condition are prohibited.
“Questions on whether an applicant has ever been arrested or field workers’ compensation benefits are prohibited by statute. Along the same line, it is probably inappropriate to ask applicants whether they have filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or filed for unemployment compensation. These are rights given to you by law.
“Perhaps the employer wants to find out if you have a propensity for losing jobs or filing for unemployment, which might have a financial impact on the company. An employer certainly can ask you about your job history. But even though there are no specific laws against it, an employer probably has crossed the line if it asks about unemployment compensation.
“The problem with refusing to answer any question on a job interview is that it might prevent you from getting the job. If that happens and you feel you were more qualified than the successful applicant, you might have a claim against the company.
“It would be useful to get the names and phone numbers of other applicants prior to the interview, so that you could talk with them to determine if they had been asked the same questions. That way it would not be just your word against your prospective employer’s.”