Employers are not allowed to ask prospective employees an entire myriad of questions in interviews. This includes asking you for your race, religion, genetic information, pregnancy status, marital status or whether you have children. In at will states, employers also cannot ask candidates for a term of commitment (aka–“Are you willing to be in this role for at least two years?”–an absurd question, because, even if you answer in the affirmative, they are under no obligation to employ you for at least two years).
If you get asked these questions in a interview, politely inform the interviewer that such a question is illegal. I am not speaking out of experience, because the only time this has happened to me, I didn’t know I was being asked an illegal question. Ideally, employers don’t ask these questions, but being prepared for if they do is a good idea, especially if you are not white, straight, cis, male, and able bodied. If you have experience calling out illegal questions in an interview, I want to hear about it!
Employers can ask you to explain employment gaps. That means if you were out of work for 6 months or more to care for a child or due to a chronic health issue or other disability, you are asked to disclose that either in an interview or on an application–before you even get in the room.
Should employers be allowed to require you to explain employment gaps? Is it any of their business?
I think the answer is no. Just like the sound of high-heels on the wood floor when orchestras started doing blind auditions, questions about employment gaps surreptitiously disadvantage groups that are already disadvantaged. Mothers (who take a disproportionate amount of time off to raise children) the disabled, and people who have been in prison suffer the most from these questions. So, people who already have a harder time finding and keeping work are being asked in a round-about fashion whether they are par. This does not lead to a fair hiring process, but a deeply biased one.
I know that whether someone has been in prison sounds like it may be of some interest to an employer, and in many states employers can ask about it as early as a job application. This is its own issue, and I know that I cannot fully do it justice here. The long and short of it is that, with rare exception, someone’s completed sentence ought not determine whether they are fit for a job.
Requiring applicants to explain gaps in employment on a job application immediately signals to me that your company is not aware of how various groups are discriminated against in the workplace or are not willing to be part of making a difference.
This practice has proven to be prevalent in my current job search, making me nervous for my future, should I ever develop a disability or take time off to be a parent (I don’t currently think prison is on the table).