Woman sitting down for a job interview with two interviewers.

If there is a question that is oddly personal in your next job interview, it may actually be illegal. There are a number of topics that are off limits for employers to ask about during an interview. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protects employees from being discriminated against based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability. Those topics and a few more are all illegal to ask about during a job interview. We’ll describe each topic, and provide you with a few example questions. 

1. Age

When did you graduate high school/college?

How long do you plan to work before you retire?

It’s illegal for any employer to discriminate based on the age of anyone 40 or older. Since asking about graduation is a sneaky way to calculate someone’s age, it’s illegal to ask about. This means any questions that attempt to find out the age of the job candidate are off the table. So no matter how innocent or conversational a question may seem, if it concerns age, it is illegal.

2. Gender or Sex

What is your maiden name?

Are you comfortable supervising men/women?

If a question is related to your gender, sex, or sexual preference, it cannot be asked. This includes questions regarding the job, and preferences the employer might have. For example, if you are told the position was previously held by a man, and they ask how you would cope, the question is illegal since it assumes gender bias. This also goes for anyone who has changed their gender or sexual identity. Neither gender nor sex should be a topic of conversation during a job interview.

3. Country of Origin/Birth & Race, Ethnicity, or Color

What country are you from?

Are you a United States citizen?

In this topics, we’ve combined everything about ethnicity, race, and country of origin. All of these topics are illegal to bring up in an interview, and during the hiring process. A few questions are allowed regarding ability to work however. One is “Are you authorized to work in the United States?”, and the other, “Will you now or in the future require sponsorship for employment status?”. These questions are both in the essence of the business, and that information would be required if they were to hire the candidate being asked.

4. Religion

What church do you belong to?

Would you need any religious holidays off?

Religion is another topic that is protected under the EEOC. Employers must also make a reasonable accommodation to any needs you may have within your religion. For example, if you have to wear certain clothing, or take a specific day off to observe, companies must make reasonable accommodations to allow it. For this reason, some companies may ask if you need holidays off, because they wouldn’t want to make those accommodations. On the other hand, some companies may ask ahead of time to prepare. Despite their motivations, asking about any religion-related accommodations or topics is illegal.

5. Disability

Are you currently on any prescription medications?

Have you ever filed for workers’ compensation?

There are disabilities that are also covered by the EEOC, and those disabilities are protected from being discriminated against. An employer cannot refuse to hire you once they find out you have asthma, or are in a wheelchair. Asking questions that attempt to uncover if you have a disability are illegal. As in the example above, asking about prescription medications is illegal since it could indicate disabilities that wouldn’t be disclosed otherwise. Companies may administer a drug test or medical exam, but only to uncover any illicit drug use or substance abuse.

6. Marital & Family Status

What does your spouse do for a living?

How old are your children?

To some companies, having a family outside of work means that you can’t commit 100% to the job. Say what you will about this line of thinking, but implementing it into your hiring process is illegal. Even if it seems like the interview is striking up a conversation parent to parent, you have to be careful- the question is still illegal, and may make the hiring manager biased. Being a parent could indicate day care problems, and other reasons an employee may need time off. The same goes for having a spouse in the military. Companies can be wary of hiring military families, since they may need to move for deployment, but we’ll touch more upon later. Whether the topic is a partner, spouse, or children, all are illegal to ask about.

7. Pregnancy

Are you pregnant?

Are you planning on having more kids?

Asking about pregnancy could again be a harmless question from a fellow parent. Or, an employer could be trying to avoid hiring someone who will require maternity leave. Also whether or not within the context of a job interview asking “are you pregnant?” isn’t a great idea- especially if the answer is no. Whether a hiring manager is genuinely interested or not, this question doesn’t belong in a job interview.

8. Personal

How much do you weigh?

How tall are you?

Personal questions should only be asked when relevant. For an employer to legally ask these questions, they have to demonstrate that it is pertinent to a need of the job. If that need can’t be demonstrated, the question is illegal. Some states actually have specific laws disallowing these questions, so you may want to do further research if interested.

9. Arrests

Have you been arrested before?

How many times have you been arrested?

If an interviewer is curious about your criminal history, they cannot legally ask about your past arrests. Any criminal accusations in favor of the candidate that don’t go on a permanent record aren’t legal to discuss or ask about. On the other hand, an employer can legally ask about convictions. In most cases, asking “have you ever been convicted of a crime?” is perfectly legal for an employer to ask. However, this isn’t true in every state. If you’re curious if an employer can ask about past convictions, you should check with your state’s Department of Labor.

10. Military

How were you discharged?

When would you have to redeploy?

As we mentioned in a previous question, members of the military are also protected from discrimination. Deployment may cause these workers, and their families to move, but no employer can refuse to hire for that reason. Asking about redeployment or discharge from the military is off the table, and not something that should impact the hiring process.

While these topics are all illegal to discuss, approach interview questions with a grain of salt. Employers may not realize that they aren’t supposed to be asking certain questions. Or, they may just be trying to have a friendly conversation. Usually the best way to approach an illegal interview question is to answer by redirecting the focus back to the job. For instance if an employer asks, “What are your religious beliefs?”, you can respond with, “My faith won’t interfere with my ability to complete all the duties of this job.” If you’d like to be more direct, you can always say that you don’t see what this has to do with the job duties. Every situation is best approached on a case by case basis. However, it doesn’t hurt to know which questions are illegal. We hope you found this blog informative!