Workers often seem befuddled by circumstances they encounter as job applicants and employees, wondering if something is amiss, or, in this litigious society, whether a company is acting illegally.

QWhat are employers prohibited from asking on a job application? What do you do when you suspect an employer is asking illegal things, such as birth date, marital status, number of dependents, height and weight?

APhilip M. Schwartz, a Washington lawyer who represents businesses, said companies are "not allowed to ask things that are not related to the job" but noted that allowable questions could vary from job to job. One would have to consider whether the requested information is relevant before declining to answer a question.

"If you are applying for a job where height and weight is a requirement, then it would be okay" for the employer to ask, he said. "Sometimes there are age requirements, too, such as 60 being the maximum age for airline pilots."

But in general, he said, employers cannot ask about applicants' marital status, how many children they have, their religion, their race or their sexual orientation.

"In most jurisdictions, you can't ask about arrest records, but usually you can ask about felony convictions," he said.

"Is it legal to ask, 'Do you have a car?' Not normally," Schwartz said. "But you can ask, 'Do you have a way to get to work on time?'

"You can't ask about children or whether someone is pregnant. But you can ask, 'Do you have any family or personal obligations that would prevent you from working a regular schedule over the next year?' "

In short, Schwartz said: "If it's related to the job, you can ask it."

I get paid every other week. I've specified that some of my income, rather than being put into my paycheck, be put into my 401(k) account. My paycheck stub shows the correct amount being withheld. However, my 401(k) account doesn't show that amount being deposited on payday. In fact, sometimes my contribution is not deposited until seven weeks after payday.

I consider this a seven-week, interest-free loan to my employer. I've never agreed to this time lag. Is it legal?

Schwartz said it probably is.

Contributions to retirement funds are governed by federal law. Schwartz said the relevant provision requires that employers "transmit employee contributions to pension plans as soon as they can reasonably be segregated from the employer's general assets but not later than the 15th business day of the month immediately after the month in which the contributions were withheld or received by the employer."

That could add up to a seven-week lag. If, for example, this worker were paid on the first working day this year, Jan. 2, her employer could delay the transfer of her contribution to her 401(k) account to as late as Feb. 21, the 15th business day of next month.

-- Kenneth Bredemeier

E-mail your workplace questions to Kenneth Bredemeier at bredemeier@washpost.com. Discuss workplace issues with him Wednesday at 11 a.m. at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.