Questions You’re Not Allowed to Ask When Interviewing

Questions You’re Not Allowed to Ask When Interviewing

When interviewing a potential candidate for an open position in your company, it’s natural to attempt to break the ice and form a rapport with that person in an effort to see if they’d be a good fit. But did you know there are actually illegal interview questions you’re not allowed to ask? Even though they may seem like normal conversation in some ways, there are specific lines of inquiry that are out-of-bounds under equal employment opportunity guidelines. They’re best to be avoided if you want to stay out of hot water.

While not “illegal” in the sense that someone would be arrested for a crime and “sent upriver to the big house,” these questions could easily expose your company to potential liability for a discrimination lawsuit. Even though some might be seemingly innocuous to an interviewer who’s relaxed and just making general conversation, these questions can make a lot of headaches for your company if handled improperly. Let’s take a look at some examples:


Have you ever been arrested for a crime?

Seems like a legit thing to ask someone that might be joining your company, right? But nope, it’s actually discriminatory against people who have not been tried and convicted of anything. You’re allowed to ask candidates about crimes they’ve been found guilty and convicted of, but you’re not allowed to inquire about a person’s arrest record.

It would be better to ask: Have you ever been convicted of a crime?


How tall are you?

Tall guys get this question all the time, but many probably never realized that it’s an inappropriate question to be asked during a job interview.

Those conducting interviews should know any line of questioning pertaining to personal characteristics is a no-fly zone. Other similar questions include things like asking how much a person weighs, how old a person is, when they were born, when they graduated college, what shoe size they wear, etc. You’re not allowed to ask about any physical traits.

For some industries, though, a person’s physical capabilities are relevant to the job’s performance requirements and/or safety standards. In those cases, employers are allowed to ask questions that are specific to the job’s functions, such as “are you able to lift a 40-pound item and carry it about 30 feet?” or other duty-based question.


Do you have any disabilities?

One might think this would be a pertinent question to ask when determining whether or not a person has the physical capabilities required for the job, but, just like the previously mentioned questions about personal characteristics, asking about a person’s disabilities can be considered discriminatory. Similarly, asking about a person’s recent illnesses, if they’ve ever filed a workers comp claim, or asking questions about illnesses that affect the applicant’s family members, isn’t allowed.

Instead, stick to questions like “are you able to perform these job functions with or without reasonable accommodations?” to ensure you’re in compliance with both equal opportunity laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act.


What associations are you a part of?

Asking about a person’s affiliations, professional or otherwise, could be construed as discriminatory under equal employment guidelines. Instead, interviewers should focus on any memberships that might pertain directly to the nature of work being conducted.

On a related note, employers are not allowed to ask about union membership affiliations, whether that company is partnered with any labor unions or not. A person’s union membership cannot be cited as reason for denying employment, and, on the flip side, a person cannot be compelled to join a union as part of a condition of their employment.

It would be better to ask: Are you part of any professional or trade organizations that would be relevant to this job?


Are you married? Any kids?

Although this feels like a perfectly normal question to ask someone you’ve just met and are trying to get to know, asking things about a person’s home life and marital status is legally considered inappropriate and irrelevant to a person’s ability to perform a job.

But this is the real world, and a person’s ability to be successful in their occupation is commonly impacted by what they’re dealing with outside of work, be that good or bad. So, to ascertain what other kinds of factors your applicant may be juggling, you’re allowed to ask questions such as “would you be willing to travel for this job?” or “are you able to work overtime hours?” provided these questions are asked of every applicant you interview.


Do you plan to start a family?

This question is kind of creepy, and it’s a weird way of asking about an applicant’s long-term plans. If you’re trying to gauge a person’s potential longevity within your company, then stick to the tried-and-true job interview staple of “where do you see yourself in five years?”

Also, on this subject, don’t ask any other questions that could come off as creepy such as “are you pregnant?” or “have you ever sued a former employer?”


Are you a U.S. citizen?

Given the current national conversation about changes that may or may not be coming for our country’s immigration policies, one might be surprised to learn employers are not actually allowed to ask job applicants if they’re U.S. citizens or not. Doing so could result in lawsuits for discriminatory hiring practices.

Instead, interviewers need to stick to the legal terminology that pertains directly to their companies. They should ask: Are you authorized to work in the United States?


Oh, the Possibilities. 

This is actually only a partial list of illegal interview questions. Our editorial team decided to get creative and come up with lots and lots more, but most of them were a little too illegal to list here.

To make sure you’re on the safe side of the law when you’re conducting your next interview, stick to questions that relate specifically to the position your hiring for and the duties a person would need to perform to fulfill the role. Keep a court summons from landing in your mailbox and familiarize yourself with the rules of legitimate interview inquiries.

Category Features, Rule of Law