Q. I am applying for a job as the manager of an apartment complex. The company has told me that I must submit a recent photo with my job application. Is this legal?! -Olivia
A. Dear Olivia,
Requiring photographs is not illegal in all states, but it is in California. Under California regulations, it is illegal to require photographs as part of a job application, with certain exceptions (“defenses”):
"(2) Photographs. Photographs shall not be required as part of an application unless pursuant to a permissible defense." Cal. Code Regs. tit. 2, § 7287.3
However, once a person is hired, the employer may require them to submit a photograph.
You can find more information at the website of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. You may wish to read a copy of the handout “Employment Inquiries: What Can Employers Ask Applicants and Employees?”
Why is this prohibited? Requiring a photograph with an application is a possible way to exclude applicants because of their race, gender, disability, or other protected factor, without even offering an interview. The employer may not even realize that they are favoring one group over another; they may just perceive some candidates more favorably.
If an applicant is never even called in for an interview, it is very difficult to determine whether the employer discriminated against the applicant, or simply didn’t find them to be a suitable candidate for permissible reasons, such as lack of experience. Because of this, even in states where it is legal to require a photograph, it tends to be discouraged and can be introduced as evidence in a discrimination lawsuit. Therefore, it’s usually recommended that employers avoid asking for photos even if it isn’t illegal in their state.
If you would like more information about your rights as a job applicant or employee, you can visit the law library and review a book such as Your Rights in the Workplace from Nolo Press. You may also want to contact the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email firstname.lastname@example.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.
Coral Henning, Director