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Questions You Can't Ask Job Applicants In Washington

 

Employers understandably want to thoroughly vet job applicants before offering them a job. However, in Washington, there are many restrictions in on what types of questions an employer can ask a job applicant, whether in a job application form, a preemployment interview, or otherwise.

While it can be frustrating for employers to try to navigate these restrictions, they are not put in place simply to vex employers. Instead, they are designed to protect against discrimination in the hiring process and to ensure equal opportunities in employment.

Restrictions on job interview questions in Washington State

With that said, let’s take a look at some of the key topics where employers need to exercise caution when interviewing job applicants, including what types of questions are permissible and what types of questions could get you into trouble.

(When you’re ready to make an offer of employment, take a look at the linked post below for more information.)

Related: Employee Offer Letters In Washington State

Age

What you can ask

You can ask an applicant to provide their birth date and proof of age.

What you can’t ask

You can’t ask anything that implies a preference for persons under 40 years old.

Arrests

What you can ask

You can only ask about arrests if you also ask whether the charges are pending, have been dismissed, or led to a conviction of a crime involing behavior that would adversely affect job performance, and the arrest occurred within the last 10 years. Note that businesses with direct responsibility for the supervision, care, or treatment of children, mentally ill or developmentally disabled persons, or other vulnerable adults are exempt from this rule

What you can’t ask

Any question about arrests that doesn’t meet the requirements listed above.

Citizenship

What you can ask

When it comes to citizenship, you can ask whether an applicant is prevented from lawfully becoming employed in the U.S. because of visa or immigration status. You can also ask whether the applicant can provide proof of a legal right to work in the U.S. after hire.

What you can’t ask

You can’t ask whether the applicant is a U.S. citizen or require proof of citizenship.

Convictions

What you can ask

You can only ask about convictions or imprisonment if the crime reasonbly relates to the job duties and occurred within the last 10 years. Note that businesses with direct responsibility for the supervision, care, or treatment of children, mentally ill or developmentally disabled persons, or other vulnerable adults are exempt from this rule

What you can’t ask

Any question about convictions or imprisonment that doesn’t meet the requirements listed above.

Family

What you can ask

When it comes to family, you can ask an applicant whether they can meet specified work schedules or if they have activities, commitments, or responsibilites that may prevent them from meeting work attendance requirements.

What you can’t ask

You can’t ask an applicant specific questions about their spouse, spouse’s gender, spouse’s employment or salary, children, child care arrangements, or dependents.

Disability

What you can ask

When it comes to disability, you can ask whether an applicant is able to perform the essential functions of the job for which the applicant is applying, with or without reasonable accommodation.

What you can’t ask

You can’t ask an applicant about the nature, severity or extent of a disability or whether the applicant requires reasonable accommodation prior to a conditional job offer. You also may not ask whether an applicant has applied for or received worker's compensation.

Related: Washington State Employment Law FAQs

Height & Weight

What you can ask

interview-questions-Washington

You can ask an applicant about height or weight only if the question is based on actual job requirements and is consistent with business necessity. To qualify as a job requirement, the employer must show that all or substantially all of its employees who fail to meet the requirement would not be able to perform the job with reasonable safety and efficiency.

What you can’t ask

You can’t ask an applicant a question about their height or weight that isn’t consistent with business necessity.

Marital Status

What you can ask

Nothing.

What you can’t ask

You can’t ask about an applicant’s marital status, the identity of their spouse, or their spouse's occupation.

Military

What you can ask

You can ask an applicant about their education, training, or work experience in the U.S. armed forces.

What you can’t ask

You can’t ask about an applicant’s experience in military other than the U.S. armed forces. You also can’t ask about the type or condition of military discharge, or request discharge papers.

Name

What you can ask

You can ask whether an applicant has worked for this company or another employer under a different name and, if so, what name. You can also ask for the name under which applicant is known to references if different from the present name.

What you can’t ask

You can’t ask an applicant about their original name where it has been changed by court order or marriage. You also may not ask questions about a name that would divulge marital status, sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity, transgender status or sex assigned at birth, lineage, ancestry, national origin or descent.

National Origin

What you can ask

When it comes to national origin, you can ask questions about an applicant’s ability to read, write and speak foreign languages, so long as these questions are based on job requirements.

What you can’t ask

You can’t ask about an applicant’s lineage, ancestry, national origin, descent, birthplace, mother tongue, or the national origin of applicant's parents or spouse.

Organizations

What you can ask

When it comes to organizations an applicant is involved with, you may ask about the applicant’s membership in organizations, excluding any organization the name or character of which indicates the race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity, marital status, religion, or national origin or ancestry of its members.

What you can’t ask

You can’t require the applicant to list all organizations, clubs, societies, and lodges to which he or she belongs.

Photographs

What you can ask

You may request a photograph after hiring for identification purposes.

What you can’t ask

You can’t ask an applicant to submit a photograph, mandatorily or optionally, at any time before hiring.

Pregnancy

What you can ask

When it comes to pregnancy, you can inquire as to a duration of stay on the job or anticipated absences which are made to males and females alike—in other words, don’t ask about pregnancy

What you can’t ask

Don’t ask about pregnancy or medical history concerning pregnancy.

Race or Color

What you can ask

Nothing.

What you can’t ask

You can’t make any inquiries concerning race or color of skin, hair, eyes, etc.

Relatives

What you can ask

You can ask for the name(s) of applicant’s relatives already employed the company or a competitor.

What you can’t ask

You can’t make any inquiry regarding marital status, identity of one’s spouse, or spouse’s occupation.

Religion or Creed

What you can ask

Nothing.

What you can’t ask

job-applicant-questions-washington

You can’t make any inquiries concerning applicant's religious preference, denomination, religious affiliations, church, parish, pastor, or religious holidays observed.

Residence

What you can ask

You can ask for an applicant’s address only to the extent needed to facilitate contacting the applicant.

What you can’t ask

You can’t ask whether an applicant owns or rents, or for the names or relationships of people with whom the applicant lives.

Salary History

What you can ask

You can only confirm an applicant’s wage or salary history if the applicant has voluntarily disclosed their wage or salary history, or after you have negotiated and made an offer of employment with compensation to the applicant.

What you can’t ask

An employer can’t ask about the wage or salary history of an applicant or from a current or former employer of the applicant.

Sex

What you can ask

Nothing.

What you can’t ask

Any inquiry concerning gender or sex is prohibited.

Sexual Orientation, Gender Expression or Gender Identity

What you can ask

Nothing.

What you can’t ask

Any inquiry concerning sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity, transgender status, or sex assigned at birth is prohibited.

Social Media

I’ve included a bonus category here with a link to a separate blog post that deals with what Washington employers can and can’t ask for in connection with a job applicant’s social media: Washington’s Social Media Privacy Law

Takeaways

Be careful, exercise good judgment, and educate yourself about these restrictions before you interview a job applicant. When in doubt, seek professional guidance.