Can Employers Ask Your Age?

Some job interview questions are off-limits

mature job applicant 175432454
•••

nicolas hansen/Vetta/Getty Images

Many employers appreciate the wisdom, grace, and experience that an older employee can bring to the workplace. But, others look for an employee who has well-developed technology skills, enthusiasm, energy, and a desire to quickly grow and contribute.

One job seeker told me about a potential employer who did post a disclaimer on the authorization form: "Date of Birth is requested only for the purposes of identification in obtaining accurate retrieval of records and it will not be used for discriminatory purposes."

In other words, the request for the background authorization was step two in the process:

  1. First in-person interview: one on one,
  2. Request for authorization to perform a background check with DOB for the four final candidates,
  3. Second in-person panel interview, and
  4. Presumably, the final selection

Was it legal and appropriate for the company to ask for my DOB in a background check authorization before a job offer?

There is no law against asking for age on a job application or background checking forms. That may vary from country to country or state to state.

That said, I encourage employers not to ask for information like age and social security number on an application because of potential discrimination issues.

I also don't want the responsibility for safe keeping that information for any but my final candidate or two. But, it is commonly recommended as a step to speed up hiring.

Employers do need it to do background checks, and you should consider it encouraging that your application has reached the point of a background check. Employers only background check their finalists for a position, and only with your permission.

Each employer differs about when they do background checks but as long as they keep their process the same for each candidate, their hiring process is appropriate. The employer already knows how old you are from application materials and the fact that you have already been interviewed. Yes, they may discriminate, but you would have a very hard time proving that age was a factor in their decision to hire you or not.

Human Resources offices with which I am familiar go to some length not to share potentially discriminatory information with their hiring teams. I have, for example, never shared a candidate's application with the hiring manager because of the information there. Nor would I ever share the background checking information that a candidate gave me to pursue the checks.

The hiring team receives a copy of the resume and cover letter only. Job candidates are advised to put only the last ten years of relevant job history on their resumes. They can also leave off the dates of their degrees until the employer needs to verify the degree. It is in the employer's best interests that employees are protected from potential claims of discrimination.

Employers may ask for whatever they think they need to make a legitimate hiring decision. If they are consistent and do not use the information to discriminate, they are in good standing.