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Your Legal Rights When Job Searching

You have a right to seek employment and to be judged solely on your skills and experience. It is illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of age, race, gender, sexual preference, physical challenges, or religion. The best chance to sell yourself based on skills and abilities is to become educated about your rights and be prepared to handle prejudice and your reaction to it. Consult the table on the next page to determine what an employer can and cannot ask you during an interview.

If you are asked an illegal question, you may not want to immediately eliminate the company as a potential employer. Often the person who interviews you will not be your supervisor. If you are asked an illegal question, wait until later in the interview and then inquire who would be your supervisor and who would be responsible for performance evaluations. You have three options in answering an illegal question.

  • You can refuse to answer the question, but if the employer is unaware that the question is illegal, you may appear confrontational and difficult to work with.
  • You can directly answer the question with the knowledge that it may inhibit your employment opportunity.
  • Usually the best option is to look at the intent behind the question and answer appropriately.

The interviewer is unlikely to view the question as prejudiced; he or she may feel it is well intentioned or that the belief is justified. If you are interested in finding employment, it is very important to react calmly and answer the question with tact and a friendly tone.

For instance, if you are asked, "We have very few minorities working here. Will you feel comfortable in this environment?"

Answer A: "It is illegal for you to question me about my ethnicity; I will be contacting the NAACP."
Result: A legal battle and no employment opportunity. The employer will feel justified in viewing minorities as being overly defensive and difficult to work with and will probably continue to screen out minorities. You may feel defensive during future interviews which will portray you negatively.

Answer B: "I enjoy working with many people of various backgrounds. I believe you will find both my work skills and interpersonal skills very satisfactory; my previous employers can verify that I have never had an issue with my co-workers."
Result: You have redirected the conversation to focus on your work experience and skills. The employer is more inclined to give you a job offer, where your good work may help to overcome his or her prejudice. Even if you are not hired, the employer will view you as a professional and may refer you to other positions or companies.

Some employers will eliminate applicants before they ever see them because résumés and applications indicate what they perceive to be negative qualities in an employee. Be careful about listing controversial activities or groups to which you belong. Even a well-educated Caucasian man may be skipped over if his résumé refers to volunteer work at Planned Parenthood or membership in the NRA. An older worker can omit graduation dates and some work experience so their age will not be readily distinguished. During the interview, you may be able to convince the employer that your status can be an advantage. For instance, an older worker may point out the demographic studies reveal an aging customer base. Having an older worker would be an advantage in customer relations, marketing new products, and product design. Furthermore, an older worker brings not only experience and maturity to the job, but is also more settled and less likely to change jobs frequently.

Many companies actively hire minorities and women; your local library will have books and magazines with referrals to these companies. Look for EOE (Equal Opportunity Employer) and AA (Affirmative Action) symbols in employment advertisements. Your local Chamber of Commerce should have information on companies' employment, including the number of women and minorities employed. For large corporations, you can call and ask for a copy of their annual report or visit their Web site. Usually a list of the top administrators in the company is provided along with their pictures. This will illustrate how minorities are promoted in the company.

Consult the chart below to familiarize yourself with your legal rights. If you feel you have been discriminated against, contact your local Job Center or call the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities at 1-800-477-5737.

Issue Employers May Ask: Employers May Not Ask:
Age Are you under the age of 18? Where were you born? How old are you?
Ancestry or National Origin No questions What is your language, ancestry, or national origin?
Birthplace No questions Where were you born? Where were your parents born?
Citizenship Are you a citizen? Do you intend to become a citizen? When did you become a citizen? Are your parents/spouse/children citizens?
Criminal Records Have you ever been convicted of a crime? Have you ever been arrested?
Dependents No questions Do you have or intend to have children? Do you have childcare?
Disability No questions Do you have any handicap? How severe is your handicap?
Education What school did you attend/graduate from? What did you study? When did you graduate? - or any question that would indicate an applicant's age.
Marital Status No questions What is your marital status? What is your maiden name?
Military Are you a U.S. veteran? What is your U.S. Military service history? Are you receiving a service-connected disability pension?
Organizations Are you the member of any organizations which advocate overthrowing the U.S. Government by violent means? Any question about an organization that would indicate the religion, race, sexual preference, or national origin of its members.
Race No questions, unless asked for Affirmative Action purposes What is your race? Photos cannot be required with an application.
Relatives No questions Where does your spouse, parents, or any relative work or conduct business?
Religion No questions What religious holidays do you observe? What religious organizations do you belong to?
Sex No questions What is your sex?
Sexual Preference No questions Are you a homosexual? What is your sexual preference?

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