While unfair questions seldom come up in the modern interview process, now and again you may be asked something at a job interview which you shouldn’t be asked. Any questions which could be linked to discrimination are unfair and inappropriate, though they aren’t always asked for reasons pertaining to discrimination. How you should handle the questions depends largely on whether you can make any sense out of them. In some cases you may not be able to, in which case you are likely dealing with a hiring manager who is discriminatory.
Some issues are very cut and dry. For example, questions about your race or ethnicity are always discriminatory. You should never be asked to submit a photo of yourself unless you’re applying for a modeling job or similar occupation where you’re literally being hired for your appearance. You also can’t be asked what country you were born in, though it is fair of an employer to ask whether you are eligible to work in the US.
Questions pertaining to your marital status or whether you have children are also unfair, though often point toward a request for practical information. You cannot be asked your maiden name either, since this relates to marital status. If an employer does ask about any of these things, there is a chance that he or she is trying to figure out whether you would be able to work the hours the job demands now and in the future. Try responding to the question in terms of hours and ignore the bit about your family status. If the interviewer moves on, he or she probably asked an inappropriate question for innocuous reasons.
You also can’t be asked your age or any other related questions, save for whether you’re the minimum age permissible to work. The only other situation in which your age could be a valid issue is in cases where the job clearly calls for someone of a given age, say for an acting part or for modeling for example.
Disabilities is another area where there may or may not be fair questions. For example, you can’t ask if you are disabled, or how much sick leave you took off last year at your previous job. You cannot be asked whether you can perform the job activities without reasonable accommodations, though you may be asked whether you can perform job activities with or without reasonable accommodations.
There are other questions which are inappropriate to ask as well, for example what religion you observe, whether you have been arrested, or whether you were dishonorably discharged from the military. When you’re in an interview and an employer asks you something inappropriate, always try first to think whether there is a reasonable way to interpret the foolish question, and if so, respond to the motivation you think is driving the query and not the query itself. If the hiring manager persists, you probably don’t want to get involved with their workplace. If you think you were unfairly denied a position, you may be able to take legal action.