You are here: Home » Career and Education » Illegal Job Interview Questions

Illegal Job Interview Questions

by Ryan Guina

One of the best ways to prepare for a job interview is to anticipate questions that may be asked during the interview process.  Most people feel more confident going through the interview process if they have had a chance to practice answers to commonly asked questions.  Knowing what the interviewer may ask before hand can help ease the nerves of those frazzled by the interview process. For example, here are some tips for answering why you left your last job.

During an interview, potential employers have the right to ask a variety of questions that will help them determine whether or not you are the best person for the position.  With this in mind, it is important to understand that you also have rights during the interview process.  Certain questions are prohibited by state and federal laws.  If you are asked any of the following questions during a job interview, it is important you understand how to handle the situation.

Illegal Job Interview Questions

There is a misconception that there is a definitive list of illegal questions that companies and interviewers can not ask you during an interview. There is no definitive list of list of such questions, however, various state and federal laws make it illegal to offer employment or discriminate against job seekers employment based on several criteria. Questions relating specifically to these criteria are often labeled as “illegal interview questions.”

Employers are prohibited from using the answers from some of the following criteria to determine employment:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Color
  • Sex
  • National origin
  • Birthplace
  • Marital status
  • Religion
  • Disability

It is important to understand the difference between an illegal question and a legal question.  For example, the interviewer is not permitted to ask you when you were born, however they are permitted to ask you if you are over age 18 or other minimum age requirements.  Similarly, employers cannot discriminate against disabled persons, however, they can ask whether an applicant can physically perform essential job tasks.

The laws in place were designed to reduce or eliminate discrimination and protect the rights of individuals seeking employment.  The person conducting the interview should be aware of what questions are permitted and those that are not allowed.  With that in mind, these questions do come up from time to time and knowing how to handle them is important.

How to Answer Illegal Job Interview Questions

Options available to you if asked an illegal question. If you find yourself in a position where you have been asked an illegal question during a job interview you have a few choices in how you respond:

  • Answer the question. Just because the question is prohibited doesn’t mean you are prohibited from answering.  If you feel comfortable answering the question, by all means go ahead – just remember that once you provide information you can’t take it back. This was the route I took when a company asked me about the type of military discharge I received (which in this instance was an illegal question). However, I had nothing to hide and determined their question was out of unfamiliarity with the law, and not out of trying to dig information from me.
  • Work around the question. You can avoid answering the question directly, however, you want to be careful with this because it may seem as though you are being evasive or shifty in your responses, which may turn off the interviewer. You could also rephrase the question to try and find out what they are really after. For example, an interviewer can’t ask if you are married, but they can ask if you are willing to travel. So you could rephrase the question to ask what they are trying to find out.
  • Call the interviewer on the question. You may decide that you do not want to answer the question and point out to the interviewer that they are not permitted to ask that type of question.  Keep in mind that no matter how tactfully you point out this mistake, few interviewers will appreciate having it pointed out to them.  This option might not work in your favor in terms of job offers.
  • File a discrimination claim. If you believe you have been discriminated against or a potential employee makes a decision regarding employment based on questions asked illegally, you have the right to file a discrimination claim. You can do this through an attorney that has experience with labor issues or by contacting your local U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office.

In some situations an interviewer may not intend to ask questions that are prohibited or discriminatory.  You should keep this in mind before automatically assuming they are up to no good.  If a potential employer is truly unethical, they are probably doing you a favor by putting the cards on the table before you accept a position.


Published or updated January 20, 2011.
Print or e-mail this article:
Print Friendly

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sage

Unfortunately, almost all of the information in this post is wrong. None of the questions or topics you’ve cited are illegal to ask or discuss – this is an assumption people often mistakenly make.

The reality is that prospective employers can ask you almost anything they want – including questions relating to your marital status and children, your faith, your sexual orientation, etc. However, they absolutely CAN NOT use your responses as grounds for hiring or not hiring you.

Knowing this, most employers are wise enough to know better than to ask these kind of questions in the first place, because really, no good can come of it.

If you’d like more info on the legalities involved in all this, check out Ask a Manager (http://www.askamanager.org/2008/07/illegal-interview-questions.html).

Reply

2 Ryan

Sage, thanks for the information and additional resource. I researched this topic as well, and while there is not a list of “illegal” interview questions per se, it is illegal to discriminate against some of the topics listed in this article. I edited the section to better clarify that information. Additionally, I believe there may be some state laws which prohibit asking certain questions, however this would be on a case by case basis, depending on which state you are in (source: University of Wisconsin Career Services).

Additionally, there are other questions which may appear to be illegal on the surface, but may be a condition of employment – for example, the military and many services such as police departments, fire departments, and various industries may have minimum and maximum age requirements, physical requirements, etc. which are a condition of employment.

The key take away from this article is to be aware of your rights as a potential employee and to know there are certain criteria against which it is illegal to discriminate.

Reply

3 brokeprofessionals

In one of my recent articles I discussed some strange advise a mentor of mine once gave me: your job, as a good interviewer, is to divulge answers to some of the “illegal” questions the interviewers want to ask but cannot. Ex- say if you have a family, say if your married. His thought was you wanted to work for people who knew the deal going in, and they were more inclined to hire someone if they had a sense of who they are and where they are coming from.

That said, I have been on interviews where even lawyers ask illegal interview questions. Good advice if that happens and there is something you do not wish to disclose or feel that it would hurt your candidacy.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

.