Is it illegal to ask about religion in an interview?

Young priest reading Bible indoors, closeup

Under federal law, it could potentially be illegal to ask a potential job candidate about religious affiliation or beliefs. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. In the context of a company’s hiring process, Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating in the hiring process based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. 

This is how it could be problematic to ask questions based on religion at a job interview. However, employers who are accused of discrimination under Title VII for asking such questions have a viable defense. It is called the bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) defense. An employer can ask questions at an interview and even hire based on religion only if the religious quality is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ)—a quality that when considered in other contexts would constitute discrimination in violation of civil rights employment law. Such qualifications must be listed in the employment offering.

So, the question becomes: When do religious qualities become a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ)? To be a BFOQ, the religious quality must be necessary to the success of the business and that a definable group or class of employees would be unable to perform the job safely and efficiently. When raising the BFOQ defense, an employer needs to demonstrate a necessity for a certain type of workers because all others do not have certain characteristics necessary for employment success. Bona fide occupational qualifications generally only apply to instances in which the BFOQ is considered reasonably necessary to the normal operation of a particular business.

Here are some examples of valid bona fide occupational qualifications: 

  • Age requirement for bus drivers and airline pilots, for safety reasons. 
  • Gender requirement in clothing advertising for male clothing for the purpose of authenticity or genuineness. 
  • Religious belief requirement (Catholic) for a teacher at a Catholic High School. 
  • Spanish speaking requirement for a receptionist position at a gym that has a substantial amount of Spanish speaking members.
  • Lifting strength requirement at a Fire department to demonstrate that they will be able to carry fire victims out of a burning building.

It is important to note however, that just because an organization may have requirements, the quality sought after must be reasonably necessary for normal operation of the business. For example, for a position such as a janitor at a Catholic school, discrimination based on religion would be illegal because religion has no effect on the person’s ability to fulfill the duties of the job. 

You should have an attorney help determine if a job requirement can legally be a BFOQ. Even if you are quite positive, you could open yourself up to a discrimination lawsuit if you’re not careful.

EPGD Business Law is located in beautiful Coral Gables. Call us at (786) 837-6787, or contact us through the website to schedule a consultation.

*Disclaimer: this blog post is not intended to be legal advice. We highly recommend speaking to an attorney if you have any legal concerns. Contacting us through our website does not establish an attorney-client relationship.*

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Eric Gros-Dubois

Founding partner Eric Gros-Dubois established EPGD Business Law in 2013. With over a decade of experience expanding the firm and leading it to its current success, Eric now primarily manages the corporate division of EPGD. Given Eric’s educational background, holding both a JD and MBA, combined with his own unique experience of starting a business from scratch and growing it to a multi-million dollar firm, he brings a specialized and invaluable perspective to those seeking legal assistance for themselves and their businesses. Having now instilled his same values in our team of skilled corporate associates, Eric leads a firm that is always ready, willing, and equipped to handle any and every legal matter that a business owner may have.


*The following comments are not intended to be treated as legal advice. The answer to your question is limited to the basic facts presented. Additional details may heavily alter our assessment and change the answer provided. For a more thorough review of your question please contact our office for a consultation.

One Response

  1. Can my HR department ask me what religion am I . And to treat my employment like church




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