Illegal Interview Questions

Definition

The term illegal interview questions refer to questions employers are not permitted to ask during an interview or as part of the job application process.  Under the law, an employer cannot deny an individual employment based on their age, arrest record, color, disability, genetics, national origin, marital status, military service, pregnancy status, race, religion, sex (gender), or sexual preference.

Explanation

Also known as illegal interview topics, illegal interview questions are those that attempt to exclude a protected group employment.  Starting with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a number of state and federal laws seek to protect individuals from discrimination in the workplace.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency responsible for enforcement of civil rights law, in addition to providing employers with education and assistance on this topic.

Unless the question is clearly related to the qualifications, roles or responsibilities of the job, it is illegal to ask questions of a candidate that might reveal their age, arrest record, color, disability, genetics, national origin, marital status, military service, pregnancy status, race, religion, sex (gender), or sexual preference.

Example

The following types of questions are illegal to ask during an interview:

  • How old are you?
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Do you have a disability or health problem?
  • What is your native language?
  • Are you a citizen of the United States?
  • Are you married?
  • Are you currently a member of the military reserves or National Guard?
  • Are you pregnant?  Do you have or plan to have children?
  • What religious holidays do you celebrate?
  • What is your sexual preference?

If job-related, the following may be acceptable questions to ask during an interview:

  • Are you age 18 or older?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a [specific, job-related] crime?
  • Are you able to perform all of the duties outlined in the job specification?
  • Which languages can you write, read, or speak fluently?
  • Are you authorized to work in the United States?
  • Are you able to work the schedule outlined in the job specification?
  • Are you able to work overtime / travel on short notice?
  • Do you have any commitments that require you to spend time away from work?
  • What are your long term career goals?

Note:  Individuals conducting interviews should always seek the advice of a labor attorney when asking questions that may be perceived as excluding a protected group employment.

Related Terms

stress interview, panel interview, screening interview, job interview, exit interview, informational interview