Employers conduct background checks to verify degrees and work history of potential employees. They typically request professional references and can require drug testing. However, there are limits to the types of questions employers can ask during an interview. According to USA Today.com, employers are legally restricted from asking questions that are unrelated to the job.
It is illegal for an employer to ask personal questions of job applicants. Age, race, nationality and sexual orientation are off limits. Applicants should not be asked what their native language is or if they are a U.S. citizen. However, employers may ask candidates what languages they speak or if they are authorized to work in the United States.
Employers are prohibited from inquiring about an applicant's living situation. For example, they may not ask applicants who they live with or what their relationship is to the people they live with. Questions regarding prior residences, such as, "Have you ever lived outside of the United States?" are also not allowed. Employers are not permitted to ask applicants if they own a home or rent.
Bad habits, such as drinking and smoking, are no business of an employer. Applicants are also not required to disclose prior arrests that did not result in convictions. Some state laws only require convictions to be reported to an employer if the nature of the crime was directly related to the functions and responsibilities of the job.
Applicants should not be asked to reveal their religious beliefs or political affiliations. Employers may not ask applicants what clubs they belong to, what organizations they support or if they have ever had any involvement in protests or demonstrations.
Medical history is a private matter. It is unlawful for an employer to question applicants about illnesses or operations they had in the past or current chronic conditions. Employers are not entitled to know if applicants ever received worker's compensation or disability pay. They are prohibited from asking applicants if they have a disability under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. They can, however, note in the job description if the job entails physical tasks, such as being able to lift a 40-pound package.
Employers may not ask applicants about their marital status or if they have children. Women should not be asked if they are pregnant or want to have children in the future. If an applicant freely reveals that she is married and has children, employers may not ask follow-up questions, such as, "What does your husband do for a living?" or "Who watches the children while you are at work?"
Employers may ask applicants if they served in the military, but only for the United States. They can inquire about training or education received while in the military. Military records are off limits, as are inquiries into the type of discharge an applicant received.
Barbara Aufiero has been writing health-related articles since 2008, specializing in mental health and health insurance. Aufiero resides in New York and holds a Master of Arts in psychology.