Illegal Interview Questions

Jodee Redmond
Two people in an interview

Getting ready to meet a potential employer requires preparation, and part of your plan should be to be ready to deal with any illegal interview questions that may come up.

Examples of Illegal Interview Questions

Most Human Resources specialists understand that by law they are not allowed to ask certain questions when interviewing an applicant for a job. Unfortunately, there are a number of hiring managers who are not aware that there are some topics that cannot be brought up in that situation. Here are some examples:

  • Are you married?

The applicant's marital status doesn't have anything to do with whether he or she can perform the duties of a job. Employers are not able to discriminate against a person based on marital status, which makes this question an example of illegal interview questions.

  • Do you have children? Are you pregnant or planning to get pregnant?

Again, these are examples of the types of questions that have nothing to do with the candidate's ability to do the job. Some employers have asked these types of questions to avoid hiring employees who may not be available for overtime work, certain work hours, or who may become pregnant and go on maternity leave. Discrimination on the basis of parental status is also illegal.

  • What is your country of origin? Are you a U.S. citizen?

Both of these questions are illegal. A prospective employer can ask a job applicant if they are legally authorized to work in the United States, though. After you have been hired, your employer can request that you produce documentation proving that you are authorized to work in the country.

  • What is your first (or native) language?

This question is considered illegal because it may be interpreted as the employer trying to find out what the applicant's nationality is. If specific language skills are needed to perform the duties of the job, then the employer can ask job applicants if they are fluent in a particular language.

  • Are you a smoker? Do you use alcohol?

Both of these are legal substances. Employers may be concerned about the higher costs of providing health insurance for employees who use these products, but they are not allowed to discriminate against a person who chooses to use them away from the workplace.

  • Are you disabled? Do you have a chronic illness?

By law, employers can't discriminate against people who have a disability or a chronic illness. They can ask whether a job applicant can perform specific job requirements, such as bending or lifting, with some accommodations.

  • Which religious holidays do you observe?

Since discrimination against a person because of their religious faith is illegal, an employer can't ask this question during an interview. They can ask whether you are available to work on holidays or weekends, as long as that is a requirement for the position, but asking about specific holidays is illegal.

  • How old are you? What year did you graduate from college?

Since it's illegal to discriminate against someone due to age, employers can't ask these kinds of questions during a job interview. The only time that it is appropriate to ask about the year of graduation is if the answer is relevant to the position being filled.

Options for Dealing with Illegal Questions

If you are asked illegal interview questions, you have three options:

  • Refuse to answer
  • Answer what you think the interviewer "intended" to ask. For example, if you are asked where you were born, you can respond by stating that you are authorized to work in the United States.
  • Turn the question around by saying something like, "If you are trying to find out [x], then my answer is [y]. For example, if you are asked about your plans for having a family, you may want to answer, "If you are trying to find out whether I am committed to my job, my answer is "Yes."

It's up to you whether you want to continue with the hiring process if you are asked illegal interview questions when you meet with the potential employer. While you may be able to overlook one verbal faux pas, a number of inappropriate questions may be considered a red flag that you should look elsewhere for work.

Illegal Interview Questions