Can an employer ask about your race in California?

Award-Winning California Employment Law Firm Since 2012
On Behalf of Law Offices of Eric A. Boyajian | August 13, 2021 Harassment & Discrimination

You’re aware that some people find your look to be unique or even exotic, but you prefer to keep your ethnicity to yourself. Most of the time, that’s not a problem. The only exception, it seems, is when you meet someone new — like a prospective employer.
Is an employer (or potential employer) allowed to ask questions about your ethnic background?

There’s no legitimate need for the question

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission highlights how it’s generally acceptable for employers to ask about an employee’s race if they do so for legitimate reasons. In many states, affirmative action laws or rules require employers to make a cursory inquiry into the racial background of their employees so that they can maintain diversity in the workforce. California, however, has banned race-based affirmative action entirely.
That basically means that there’s no legitimate reason for the question when you’re being considered for a position in a company — or in any other employment-related context. Nor may a potential or current employer ask simply to satisfy their curiosity. Your ethnic background is, in effect, your private business unless you wish to volunteer the information to somebody.

What if an employer dances around the subject?

Sometimes an employer will try to approach the subject from an angle. They may ask you about your family, where your parents live and similar questions that — when the answers are taken together — might reveal your ethnicity. That’s a violation of the law and another form of racial discrimination.
If you believe that you were denied a job or denied an opportunity within your employer’s company because of racial discrimination, you don’t have to accept that sort of treatment. Fighting back helps end the problem.