There are laws about what employers can and can’t ask you about your family during a job interview, however many employers have found tricky ways to work around these limitations. Keep in mind though; you have the right to withhold information about your personal life that does not affect your ability to do the job if you are hired.
Employers are not supposed to ask your marital status during the interview process. Even though some outdated employment applications do have checkboxes for married, single, or widowed, you can just skip checking a box. However, employers do have ways of working around asking the question directly. They can ask women, have you ever worked or earn a degree under a different last name? They can also ask if you have other responsibilities that limit your ability to work overtime or travel; which is also a sneaky way of determining if you have children or not.
No interviewer should ever ask you directly if you have children. Although, they can ask the overtime or travel arrangement question previously mentioned as a means of prying the information out of you. They can also ask something, like how much experience do you have with children or teenagers or the fill-in-the-range age group. Unless dealing with a people of a certain age range is part of your job, the latter question is a bit dubious.
This is a case where one word makes all the difference. Employers are not supposed to ask you which relative you want them to contact in case of an emergency. That question leads to assumptions that you are married or you are close to your family. Although, they can ask who would you like us to contact in case of an emergency. The difference is very subtle, but including the word relative creates a subtle distinction in the question.
It is discriminatory to ask a woman if she plans to have children. Whether or not you plan to have a family is not information your employer needs to be privy to. Employers also cannot ask – unless you are already working for them and pregnant – if you plan to take maternity leave and/or if you will come back to work after leave. The best an employer can do is ask is what your long-term plans and goals are.
Keep in mind that if a potential employer asks you a question that he or she is not supposed to, that doesn’t mean the interviewer is intentionally breaking the law. Some people ask these questions as part of polite conversation without realizing they are inappropriate. Use your own judgment before answering to decide if the question is just polite chitchat or if someone is trying to potentially use your answer against you.
About the Author: Toi Ladabouche is a single mother who knows how tough it can be to find a job when some employers are concerned about family obligations. When she’s not working, she’s a women’s rights advocate and she loves helping other single moms find ways to get back to school. Visit grantsforsinglemother.org for more information about finding the resources you need to succeed.