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Interview Discrimination - Who's at Risk?


Discrimination During the Interview Process

Many women face discrimination during the pre-employment interview stage, even before they have a chance to be hired into the workplace. During interviews, women can be subjected to prejudices based on their gender, as well as asked interview questions that have been found to be illegal. In an effort to avoid these issues, some women modify their behavior or appearance, and even alter their responses to inappropriate questions. What are some of the questions or interview topics that are off-limits?

Questions Related to Pregnancy are Off-Limits

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects the rights of pregnant women in the workplace. These protections include various stipulations regarding providing certain reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees in order to allow them to perform their jobs and holding their positions for them until they return from maternity leave.


For many businesses, these requirements pose burdens that, while seen as reasonable to the courts, are not well-received by business owners. For these reasons, some employers try to take steps to determine whether a female applicant is pregnant or plans to become pregnant in the near future. Consequently, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act has made it illegal for employers to ask questions along those lines. As a result, women have the right to refuse to answer such questions, but that refusal may still cost you a job.

Discrimination Based on Relationship Status

Although Title VII does not specifically refer to discrimination based on relationship or marital status, employers are not allowed to ask potential employees questions about marital status, as that could be the basis of sex discrimination, depending on the situation. Like questions about pregnancy, interviewees are not required to answer questions about their marital or relationship status. In those states that recognize claims of sexual orientation discrimination, these types of questions could also be troublesome.

Advice for Interviewers

Interviewing applicants for an open position can be an exciting time for a hiring manager because you get to meet with several different people to determine who the best fit for the job is. There are many factors to take into consideration to figure out who is ideal, but one factor that should not matter at all is a person’s gender. As sad as it may be to realize, many women still face discrimination in the workplace. One place where discrimination can take place in the interview, and there are various questions that, as an employer, you are not allowed to ask. Make sure you do not infringe on a woman’s rights and ask one of the following illegal interview questions.

Laws in Place to Protect Women

A number of laws have been passed over the years to protect employees from experiencing workplace discrimination. Many of these relate to women. The primary protection is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There is also the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against a job applicant on the basis that she is pregnant or may become pregnant. There is also the Family and Medical Leave Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against a woman because she has to take care of a newborn or other family member.


Illegal Questions to Ask

With the above-mentioned laws in mind, there are certain questions you cannot ask. Many interviewers make the mistake of asking one of the following questions and asking one of these can result in a lawsuit. Do not under any circumstances ask the following questions.

  • What Is Your Marital Status? You are not allowed to inquire about whether a woman is single, married or divorced. This question poses additional problems because it could reveal confidential information about a person’s sexual orientation.

  • Do You Have Any Children? Asking this question could make a woman uncomfortable because she might get concerned that she will be passed over for the job if she has kids to tend to.

  • What Arrangements Do You Have for Childcare? Some employers want to ask this question because if a woman has children, they want to know that she will not be absent from the workplace often to care for them. However, it is off the table to ask.

  • Are You Pregnant? / Do You Have Any Plans to Get Pregnant? You are required by law to give women who are pregnant and have recently given birth time off. You are not allowed to ask this question because it could come across as you are trying to avoid giving someone time off.

The best policy is to avoid prying into a candidate’s private life and stick to responsibilities and skills that are actually needed for the job. If you have questions or need guidance on effective interview process and questions, please contact CWL Consulting Group to enhance candidates performance and reduce risk.


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