Why Do Job Applications Ask About Race and Ethnicity?

Why Do Job Applications Ask About Race and Ethnicity?

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When applying for a job, you get thrown a lot of questions, such as your past work experience, level of education, schedule, and age. Another commonly asked question is, what are your race and ethnicity? So, why exactly do employers ask this question, and is it a bad sign?

Job applications ask about race and ethnicity for reporting purposes to show who they are hiring and that they aren’t being discriminatory. Under the law, no employer is allowed to hire, or not hire, someone based solely on their race or ethnicity. 

In this article, I will further discuss why there’s usually a question about race and ethnicity on job applications, if it’s legal to ask someone this question, and if you should indicate your ethnicity when applying for a job. 

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Why Do Employers Ask About Your Race on a Job Application?

Employers ask about your race on a job application for affirmative action guidelines and to keep a record of the applicants’ demographic. Affirmative action in the U.S. is to improve employment opportunities for those subject to discrimination due to race, ethnicity, and other factors.

So, if an employer asks for your race on an application, this could be for data for affirmative action to show they are not discriminatory. 

Another reason for asking about your race could be to keep a record of applicants. Many companies record demographic information about their applicants to see if their job postings attract applicants of all races. As the employer, they do not want only to draw one group of people. They want a diverse staff. 

Businesses do not hire unqualified people to meet diversity quotas because doing so is illegal. They want to check that they aren’t being discriminatory by accident by only attracting applicants from one or two networking sources that cater to only a few demographics. 

This data can help them decide how to reach a variety of applicants and grow their company. 

Is It Legal To Ask for Race on a Job Application?

It is legal for an employer to ask for your race on a job application. According to the National Origin Discrimination, federal law does not state that it is illegal to ask for a person’s race on a job application. 

Lawful purposes may be for affirmative action or government laws that state you have to report this type of information.

The E.E.O.C. (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) requires employers to give all applicants an equal shot at being hired regardless of race, ethnicity, and other reasons. The E.E.OC. doesn’t provide a specific number for each group of people that a company must employ.

If a company is under a government contract, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (O.F.C.C.P.) is who they would report. 

However, suppose a company continues to grow and isn’t hiring minorities. In that case, the E.E.O.C. can look at applicants that were not hired and compare them to those that were to see if there is any discrimination at play. 

The E.E.O.C. states that a business should not ask for an applicant’s race to be discriminatory. 

If an employer is asking for your race for their knowledge and using it to decide if they will hire you or not, then that is discrimination, and it is illegal. 

If an employer asks for information regarding your race on a different form that is not an application or just over the phone, this is not legal, and you should not provide them with any information. This type of data collection is not for lawful purposes by any means.

Should I Indicate My Ethnicity When Applying for a Job?

You should indicate your ethnicity when applying for a job. However, you are not required to include any information about your ethnicity or race when applying for a job. 

Suppose you give your ethnicity when applying, and you feel the company did not hire you due to discrimination. In that case, you could file a claim with the National Origin Discrimination administration, and this would be your proof there was discrimination. 

If you don’t indicate your ethnicity and aren’t hired, then you have no way of claiming there was discrimination in the hiring process. 

By indicating your ethnicity, you can also help the employer know they reach a diverse audience and not just market towards one group of people. 

However, if you decide not to disclose your ethnicity, it legally can not be held against you. It is your right not to answer if you wish to do so. Suppose an employer tries to force you to give that information on their end. In that case, the hirer is working against the law and can be sued for discriminatory hiring procedures. 

Lying About Race and Ethnicity on a Job Application

Lying about your race and ethnicity on a job application is never a good idea. Lying on an application makes you look dishonest, which an employer doesn’t want. 

Suppose an employer finds out you were dishonest on the application. In that case, they have grounds for termination, and you lose your right to sue the company for wrongful termination based on discrimination. 

However, this mainly goes for lying about more severe things like past work experience and references. Most employers will most likely not fire you for not being honest about your race, although they may not be happy about it. 

Also, if an employer were to accuse you of lying about your race, you would have the grounds to sue them for discrimination or a hostile work environment. Therefore, it makes for quite a messy situation. 

Although you will not face any criminal charges for lying on an application about your race or ethnicity, it is not a good idea. If you are honest about such things on your application and are not hired, you can always look into why and see if it was discrimination by the company or not. 

Proving Discrimination in the Hiring Process

If you are worried that you did not get hired due to discrimination, then you can file a Prima Facie Case to raise the question of discrimination.

There are four questions called the McDonnell-Douglas Test that you must be able to answer yes to be able to have a legitimate case against the business. 

  1. Are You a Member of a Protected Group of People? A protected class would be if you were disabled, of a specific age group, or belonging to a particular race or ethnicity.
  2. Did You Meet the Qualifications for the Job? Meeting the qualifications would be if you had the required amount of experience and the required educational level to get the job.
  3. Did Your Employer Take Any Action Against You? Taking action against you would be promoting, hiring, or terminating you. Taking action also includes not being employed by the employer. 
  4. Have You Been Replaced by Someone Who Is Not in a Protected Group of People? Being replaced by someone not in a protected class would mean, for example, you are a black female, and a white male replaced you. Being replaced also goes for someone else being hired instead of you. 

If you can prove these four things, then the legal process can move forward, and the employer will have to show evidence it was not discriminatory. If they can’t prove this, they will be bound guilty of discrimination and charged. Usually, you will receive compensation payments for loss of time not being able to work or for emotional damages if you win the case. 

Questions an Employer Isn’t Allowed To Ask You

There are a few questions an employer is not allowed to ask you on an application. They can not ask about your religion or sexual orientation. This type of information is personal and should have nothing to do with whether or not you’re capable of doing a specific job. 

Suppose you see these questions on the application. In that case, you can report them to the E.E.O.C. to further investigate the employer, and they can hopefully remove the discriminatory questions from their applications. 

Is Discrimination Still Common in the Hiring Process?

Discrimination is still common in the hiring process. Recent studies and other data collected by the E.E.O.C. show that there is still an issue with discrimination within the workplace.

A recent study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research sent in 80,000 fake job applications to over 100 companies of larger size. Their study found that applications with names that sounded less white were 10% less likely to get a call back from the employer.

However, with laws set in place, these businesses can be held accountable for their actions if they do choose to be discriminatory in their hiring process. That’s another reason it is best to provide your ethnicity on a job application. 

You never know. Maybe your discrimination case will make the world of hiring a better place for minorities. 

Are The Number of Discrimination Cases Decreasing?

The number of discrimination cases decreases every year, although it’s still an issue. The E.E.O.C. states that there were 72,675 last year, but the number of charges dropped to 67,448 this year.

In 2016, there were 91,503 charges. So, the number of suits is going down quite a bit which is a positive thing, and hopefully, the number of charges will continue to go down each year. 

In 2019 23,967 of the cases were regarding racial discrimination, and in 2020 there were 22,064. Even though this number didn’t drastically decrease, the data shows that the number of cases is decreasing, which is still very good.

The E.E.O.C. is also improving how much it is getting in settlements for victims of discrimination. In 2020 alone, they reached 535.4 million dollars in settlements total. This high amount proves that the E.E.O.C. takes discrimination charges seriously and that a victim will receive compensation. So, if you are a victim of discrimination, you will be in good hands.


Employers should only ask about race and ethnicity on an application for data purposes. It is illegal for an employer to collect this information for anything other than lawful purposes or to keep track of application demographics.

Collecting this data can show the E.E.O.C. or O.F.C.C.P that the company isn’t discriminating against any group of people. This data can also indicate if their job postings are reaching a diverse group of people or not.

Giving your race or ethnicity on an application is proof of discrimination if not hired because of these factors.