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Know Your Rights as an Applicant


Job hunting is never an easy process. Between filling out applications (often manually) to preparing for interviews and researching opportunities, you have enough on your plate. The last thing you want to add is figuring out if your rights as an applicant have been violated. Thankfully, there are tons of good resources out there that can help you make that determination. This article will dive into some of those resources as well as some of the ways you can tell if you may need legal protection. You absolutely need to know your rights as an applicant.

Asking Illegal Questions

One of the simplest ways to know your rights as an applicant is by understanding the various questions you may be asked in an interview. Chances are all of the standard questions will be asked: “Why are you looking for a new role?” “Tell me about yourself…” “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Those questions are normal and generally reasonable.

But there are other questions that should never come up during an interview. “Are you married?” “Do you expect to have a family?” “Tell us about your ethnic background…” These are just some examples of questions that are related to topics generally illegal to discuss in interviews or when making hiring decisions. These questions broach topics that are usually about protected groups in the United States. Protected characteristics include an applicants race and ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and national origin, but there are others.

This is not to say that, if asked a question along these lines, you should sue or take other legal action. We are not here to give legal advice. However, you should know what your rights are when applying for a job. Likewise, these questions and topics are well known – the most seasoned human resources manager can still make a mistake, however. Maybe nothing was meant by the question, but simply a conversation was being had. Most often these questions are asked by non-HR team members, perhaps a supervisor you will work under or something similar. That can have its advantages, like being able to ask direct questions about the role, but also some drawbacks. Regardless, you need to know your rights as an applicant.

Background Checks

Background checks are an integral part of any hiring process. Though there has been a movement of social justice regarding background checks in recent years, they are still one of the most universally accepted parts of the job application process. Still, you need to know what your rights are as an applicant undergoing a background check.

When a prospective employer submits your name for a background check, there is a process they must undergo. First, they must inform you of the background check and that the information gathered from it can be used to hire, promote, or fire you now or in the future. Second, they must provide this information in a standalone document, separate from anything else in the application process. In that same vein, they must also obtain your written permission before submitting your name for a background check, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Since you should always do your research on the employer, it is reasonable they would want to do the same.

That said, employers do have every right to search public records for appearances of your name. This could include criminal history, but likely will involve social media, employment history, and public education documents. Similarly, during an interview, it is common for an interviewer to probe these topics, especially education and employment history. These questions could lead to negative conclusions by the hiring managers. Regardless, it is always the best policy to tell the truth in said interviews.

In conclusion, before jumping into an interview or application, know your rights as an applicant. Yes, it is more work for you to do. And no, it isn’t fair. But you will never regret knowing when you walk away from an organization that uses illegal and/or unethical practices. In fact, you will always be thankful for knowing what’s right and what is wrong in these situations.

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