This time we prepared for you an article about the most common illegal interview questions with the tips on how to handle them. It is extremely important to be aware of your rights before taking the interview. Knowing what your future employer cannot ask you about is equally important as knowing what are the potential interview questions to expect for your dream job position. If you don’t want to miss the chance to succeed, be prepared for both.
Before we go to the list of 20 most typical examples of the illegal interview questions, we will explain to you shortly what the illegal interview questions are and why they should be avoided. We will comment on each of our 20 question examples, if they are always considered illegal, or if they are potentially illegal.
We will also share with you the tips on how to react to such questions and how to replace them with the ethical, non-discriminatory ones. In the last part of the article, we will present the risks associated with the usage of the illegal questions during the job interviews. At the end of the article, we will provide the links where the victims of employment discrimination can find help.
Are you ready? Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
What the illegal interview questions are?
The illegal interview questions are the questions which an employer is not allowed to ask a job candidate. The interview questions should always refer to the candidate’s skills and experience which are required for his/her future role. We can roughly assume that if a question is not directly related to the candidate’s future responsibilities, it is not legal. Such questions are officially classified as illegal as they can be used by an employer against an employee: for discrimination, mobbing etc.
All the questions during the interview should be asked with caution. We will show the examples, where sometimes two very similar interview questions can be one fully legal and the other illegal and discriminatory. Special caution is required to prevent the situation where an illegal question is asked innocently and completely unintentionally.
Depending on the country, the state or even the company’s profile, the list of illegal interview questions might be a little different. In general, in the U.S., all the questions related directly to the candidate’s age, marital status, children, sexual identity and preferences, place of birth, race, religion, criminal record, medical history, financial situation etc. are considered illegal.
Disclaimer. This article can help to get a general overview about are potentially discriminatory and illegal interview questions in the U.S. Be aware that the anti-discrimination law is constantly changing and often varies from state to state and from country to country. Always check the current law regulations for your location on the official governmental websites, such for example U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
List of the illegal interview questions
What is your age?
This is a potentially illegal interview question. In some cases, your future employer may have to check your age, for example when you apply for a job in a bar, where there is a legal requirement of the minimum age of an employee. In such situations, this question is objectively justified and thus completely legal. Otherwise, there is no need to check the candidate’s age during the interview.
Unfortunately, very frequent is the discrimination of the people of pre-retirement age, of the women of childbearing age etc. Stay vigilant during the interview – an employer can try to indirectly get the information about your age by asking for example about the year when you graduated from a high-school – this question is of course also illegal.
What is your current personal situation?
All the questions about your marital status, children, plans to have children, sexual identity, sexual preferences etc. are not legal. If by asking this question, an employer tries to check your availability to work overtime or to travel, he should explicitly focus his question on what he is interested in.
What is your maiden name?
This question may look like valid, justified and innocent, especially if you changed your name after marriage and both the names figure in your documents. However, it can be asked only after the employment contract is signed. During the interview process, asking this question is not allowed.
Are you pregnant or do you plan a pregnancy?
Asking such a question would suggest that your pregnancy plans can influence (positively or negatively) the result of the interview. Making pressure on a candidate and encouraging to make non-pregnancy declarations is a manifest disregard for the law.
What is your nationality?
Your future employer doesn’t need to know your nationality but he may be interested, if your stay in the country is legal, if you have a work permit, what is your visa status etc. and it is ok to ask about it. So the allowed form of the question “What is your nationality?” would be for example: “Are you entitled to stay and work in our country for the next 2 years?”.
What are your origins?
No question can be asked about the candidate’s nationality, ethnic identity, race, skin colour etc. None of them should be relevant during the recruitment processes or impact recruitment results.
What is your mother tongue?
This question asks indirectly about the candidate’s nationality, ethnic identity, race, skin colour and thus is illegal. If languages are a requirement for the job position which a candidate applied for, a specific skill-oriented question should be asked instead, for example: “Do you speak fluently both English and Spanish?”.
Do you observe any religious holidays?
The questions related to the candidate’s religious affiliation and beliefs are to be avoided. If the purpose behind this question is to check for example the employee’s availability, a direct question about the availability should be asked instead.
What is your availability the evenings / on Sundays etc.?
It is ok to ask for a general or even a specific availability if it is objectively relevant for the job position which a candidate applied for. But it is not allowed to use the availability as an excuse to gather the information about the candidate’s family situation, religion etc. For instance, asking for no reason a young woman about her availability in the afternoon and evening or asking a person wearing a religious-looking like jewellery about the availability on Sundays again for no reason, will be considered as a manifest disregard for the law.
Do you have a criminal record?
This is a potentially illegal interview question. This question is completely in place for example in the law enforcement agencies but if it has nothing to do with a candidate’s future roles and responsibilities, it is to be avoided.
Do you have any disabilities?
An employer should specify the activities within the scope of your future responsibilities and then ask you if you will be able to perform them. A disability as such is not a factor to be taken into account in the hiring process.
Have you suffered any serious diseases or mental disorder?
A medical record is a piece of sensitive information and doesn’t need to be disclosed during any job interview.
Have you ever had a workplace accident?
Again, a medical record is a piece of sensitive information and doesn’t need to be disclosed during any job interview even when it contains some workplace accidents. You are not obliged to share with your future employer the history of your accidents in the previous jobs.
What is your financial status?
If you are an employer, do not ask any questions related to the candidate’s financial situation. If you are a candidate, do not answer any questions about your financial status: bank accounts, credits, properties etc.
What is your current salary?
This is a potentially illegal interview question. In some states, this question can be allowed.
What is your weight and height?
If there is a proven requirement for a certain weight and height, this question can be allowed, for example in the fashion industry. Otherwise, this questions is completely illegal.
Do you have any political connections?
This is an illegal interview question unless your future employer can prove that it is a piece of objectively mandatory information to decide on hiring. Such cases will be however very rare.
Do you smoke?
Some employers worry that a smoker will be less efficient at work because of the frequent cigarette breaks. In such a situation, the employer should ask explicitly about his preoccupation, for example: “Are you able to work 8 hours straight with only three 15-minute breaks?”.
What is your address?
During the interview, employers very often want to make sure that an employee will be able to start and finish the work on time, according to the work schedule. Asking for the candidate’s address and then, based on his/her reply, making assumptions is not allowed. Instead, the question should be “Will you be able to start every day at 6 a.m., including weekends and holidays?”.
Who is your emergency contact?
This information you can provide only after the employment contract is signed.
How to handle illegal interview questions?
The employers are not allowed to ask the questions classified as illegal. There is just a couple of exceptions to this rule – to know more about them, see the questions and comments above. If you get an illegal question during the job interview, remember that you are not obliged to answer it. It is your choice. You have several options: you can ask politely how this question relates to your future job responsibilities (sometimes the illegal questions are asked unintentionally), you can refuse to provide the answer or you can reply to it. Be aware, that if you decide to provide the answer on such a question, you won’t get held responsible for the potential inaccuracies or lies.
The risk for the companies related to the illegal interview questions?
Every employee who suspects being a victim of discrimination, including job candidates who during the interview received one or several interview question(s) classified illegal, has grounds to file an official charge of employment discrimination. In such situations, if the agreement failed to be reached, such charge may result in a judicial proceeding and a lawsuit.
If during an interview, a candidate unintentionally and by his/her own will, divulges the information which employer is not allowed to ask about, an interviewer should not follow-up on it and should disregard this information when deciding about the hiring.
Where to get help if you are a victim of employment discrimination?
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Check also our other articles and be better prepared for your interview