Responding to an illegal question about race during an interview

On Behalf of | Feb 23, 2022 | Race Discrimination |

The excitement of interviewing for a job may quickly turn to horror for applicants faced with answering an illegal question. By law, employers cannot ask about specific topics including race, religion and disability.

Illegal questions about race can result in serious repercussions for employers stemming from discriminatory hiring practices. Even worse, individuals on the receiving end of such inquiries may suffer tremendous embarrassment.

Personal rights

Prior to an interview, applicants should refresh their understanding of their personal rights. When people understand their rights under the law, they can more confidently identify discriminatory practices. According to The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, some of the rights people have under the law include the following:

  • Access to job applications regardless of race
  • Fair consideration for a job regardless of race
  • Inclusive hiring procedures

Employers cannot inquire about a person’s accent, appearance, nationality or country of origin during an interview. All interview questions, their context and their scope should have relevance to an available job within the company. Employers do not need information about anyone’s race to adequately assess an applicant’s ability to perform the desired job functions.

Professional response

Responding to an illegal question can cause discomfort, embarrassment and humiliation. However, people who can maintain a professional and poised demeanor may only solidify their image. Yale University suggests some excellent tips for answering inappropriate questions during an interview. The interviewee may choose to answer the question, inquire about the question’s relevance to the job or side-step the question completely and provide reassurance of desired qualifications.

If people feel victimized because of illegal hiring practices, they may want to hire an attorney. Discriminatory interview questions may prevent an otherwise-qualified person from getting a job which is both unethical and unfair.


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