Employers have the right to ask you many different types of questions during the application and interview process. For example, they can ask you what experience you have or why you left your former job. However, in most cases, employers cross the legal line when they ask to see your photograph along with your application.
In general, it is illegal to ask an applicant to include a photograph with a job application. Several laws prevent employers from doing this. These include the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title I and V) also makes requesting a photograph illegal in most cases.
The Civil Rights Act, ADEA, CSRA and ADA regulations prevent various forms of discrimination in hiring and employment based on factors such as sex, age, disability, race or color. If an employer asks you for a photograph, the employer can make assumptions about those factors based on what they see. Current regulations attempt to prevent the employer from using those assumptions in hiring and employment decisions.
Even though the law generally does not allow employers to ask for a photograph, it is permissible in some instances. For example, a casting agent may request a photograph from an actor, or a modeling agency may ask to see a model's portfolio. In these instances, the photographs have direct relevance to the applicant's job. Typically, this means that the exceptions to the no-photograph standard occur in the arts industries. Even in these industries, employers must apply the same application requirements to everyone -- they cannot ask for a photo from some and not from others.
Reporting Illegal Requests
In the instance an employer makes an illegal request for a photograph as part of a job application, you may submit a complaint to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC prefers you file your complaint in person at your local EEOC office, but you also can at least initiate the process through phone or postal mail (see Resources). There is no need to hesitate with filing for fear you are the only one experiencing discrimination -- the EEOC collected $404 million for discrimination victims in 2010 over a record of almost 100,000 individual cases.
Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and editor based in Eagan, Minn. She has been published in both print and Web publications and has written on everything from fly fishing to parenting. She currently works through her business website, Takingdictation.com, which functions globally and welcomes new clients.