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Employee rights with employment inquiries, Part I

When a person is employed or seeking employment in California, there are certain employee rights concerning information that the employer is allowed to request. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits inquiries in any way that relate to non-job aspects of a person's life as his or her race, religion, color, physical disability, sex, sexual orientation, age and more. Disability discrimination, religious discrimination, race discrimination and other discriminatory acts are against the law.

The employer is not allowed to force an employee or prospective employee to undergo a medical or psychological examination. Nor can they ask if the employee has a disability or medical condition or look into its severity. The employer does have the right to require these examinations if it can show that this is related to the job and is a business requirement. Voluntary examinations with medical histories can be conducted if they are part of an employee health program that is available at the work location.

There are other acceptable and unacceptable inquiries that an employer can make. For example an employer can ask for the name of the employee, but not the employee's maiden name. An employer can ask for the address of an employee's place of residence, but not whether the person owns or rents. An employer can ask for the employee's age when it comes to legality, but not the employee's specific age, birth date, when school was attended or completed and questions that can identify a person as being over 40. An employee can make inquiries that verify the legality of working in the U.S., but not the applicant's birthplace, the applicant's parents' birthplace and other relatives, nor the naturalization or alien cards before being employed.

For national origin, the employer can ask if the employee can read, speak or write in a language other than English, but cannot question nationality, ancestry or descent. With religion, questions about the regular days, shifts and hours that can be worked are allowable, but questions about the religion or what religious days are observed are not. These are just some of the rules that an employer must follow when it comes to employees and their personal information. Part II will focus on gender, sexual orientation, mental and physical disabilities and references. Those who believe they have faced a violation of these laws need to understand their rights to be protected from workplace discrimination with help from an attorney.

Source: dfeh.ca.gov, "Employment Inquiries -- What can employers ask applicants and employees?," accessed on June 28, 2016