Interview Questions that are Illegal in the US

March 22, 2022  •  Reading Time: 9 min.

During an interview you have to answer a lot of questions and present yourself as professionally as possible. Of course, this puts a lot of pressure on you.

In all the excitement, you often don’t even notice certain questions that really shouldn’t be asked. The so-called “illegal questions” are about certain aspects of your life such as religion, sexual orientation, family history, and other personal information that you don’t have to answer.

During the interview, the employer has to figure out which applicant is the best fit for the open position. So, it is anapplicant’s characteristics such as experience, internships, career path and school-leaving qualifications that count, not their personal circumstances.

If you are asked such illegal questions in the interview, it is probably unconscious and not malicious. It is not always easy for the employer to be careful not to ask such personal questions.

The difficulty of asking the right question

After reading a job description and submitting your application, you will need to wait for an invitation to interview.

Already in the application process, applicants provide private data such as birth date, age, current address, if they graduate high-school, qualifications and work experience to the employer.

This is a legal requirement and is expected of every applicant. In the application process, however, it can quickly become even more private if the employer starts asking illegal interview questions.

Special caution is required here, as otherwise you as an employer will quickly have a discrimination lawsuit on your hands.

What makes a question illegal?

Federal laws and state laws prohibit employers from asking questions that are off limits topics or have nothing to do with the job for which they are hiring someone. Unless these questions have something to do with the requirements of the job, they should not be asked in an interview.

Unacceptable interview questions concern:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Sex or sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • Marital or family status
  • Citizenship or nationality
  • Credit score
  • Criminal record
  • Disability
  • Military discharge

Not hiring candidates based on any of these factors would be discriminatory.

Unfortunately, some of these questions are quite common as interview starters, as they are a great way to open small talk. Some also ask such questions to lighten the mood and build rapport with the applicant.

If you feel uncomfortable, you do not have to answer such questions. Before you go to the interview, you should know what to do if you hear one of these questions.

Illegal interview questions

Gender, sex or sexual orientation

There are many ways to ask discriminatory questions about gender. Some of these questions are fairly direct and others are more subtle.

Questions about your gender identity should not be asked in interviews unless they are directly related to the qualifications of a position, such as being a supervisor in a gender-segregated restroom. Otherwise, your gender, transition surgery or sexual orientation should not be considered in determining whether you are qualified for the position.

Example:

If questions related to your gender come up, it is best to answer without mentioning gender.

Question: “Do you think you would be able to lead a team of all men?”

Answer: “Yes, I have a lot of experience in management. In my last job, I also managed a department that was very male-heavy.”

Marital status or family status

“Are you planning to have a child? Are you going to get married? Will you continue to work if you have children?” These and similar questions about your marital status or your family status have no place in an interview.

In the same way, questions about child care, childcare arrangements or the pregnancy status are unprofessional. They are illegal interview questions.

These are private decisions that you should definitely keep to yourself and do not need to disclose.

Of course, employers are curious, but evaluating you based on whether you have or want children or are married is not appropriate and has nothing to do with your qualifications for the job.

Sometimes employers ask illegal interview questions about your marital or family status to find out if you are committed to the job and the company.

A good way to respond would be to mention that you are committed to your professional development. Steer the conversation back to the job you are applying for.

Age

Because younger applicants have less work experience than older applicants, there are employers who tend to hire older applicants.

Other employers prefer younger applicants because they are often better able to integrate into a young team.

Younger applicants are often passed over in favor of older, more experienced applicants, and older applicants are sometimes passed over in favor of younger employees who would cost less in salary.

Age discrimination exists in many companies.

Interviewers ask questions about age to find out if you have the experience required for the job, but these questions are often illegal interview questions.

A good answer would remind them of your relevant strengths and how your experience can benefit the company, “I actually have a lot of experience as a customer service representative. I have often worked in stressful situations, and our customer satisfaction increased during my time at my previous company.”

You can also refuse to answer and say something like, “My age is not a problem for my ability to perform the duties of the job.”

Citizenship, ancestry, or national origin

Employers in the United States can get into trouble if they hire people who are not legally allowed to work in the country.

Because of this, you may be asked legal questions about your national origin, ancestry, birth certificate, native language and background during a job interview.

In this way, the companies are trying to find out if they are committing a crime if they hire you or if you are a US citizen and legally eligible to work in the United States.

Of course, knowing other languages, which you can write fluently and speak fluently, is often an advantage and goes over well with employers, especially if knowing many languages is a job requirement.

Religion

While your religion is usually not directly related to your job, employers still often ask in an interview about your religion, for example, to help plan holidays and weekends.

For scheduling purposes, it’s helpful to know if the applicant attends church on Sundays and can’t take shifts at that time of day, or if there are certain religious holidays that would need to be observed.

In general, questions about an applicant’s religious affiliation or beliefs are viewed as non-job-related and problematic under federal law, unless the religion is a bona fide occupational qualification.

If someone asks you a question about religion, you can also reassure them that you are available by saying something like, “My schedule is very flexible, and I’m sure I can work the hours required for this position.”

This increases your chances of getting the job, as it is naturally easier for the employer to plan with flexible employees who can work weekends. If you feel you have been discriminated against, you can report it to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Incapacity

Interviewers often ask about your ability to perform certain tasks, with questions like, “Are you able to safely lift and carry objects weighing up to 50 pounds?” or “Are you able to work an eight-hour shift?” These questions are legal interview questions and fairly common.

Employers use these questions to try to find out if you are up to the job or if physical overexertion can quickly occur.

After all, the goal is to achieve a perfect match between job and applicant. If you have physical limitations, read the job description carefully to avoid getting into an awkward situation.

The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against people with disabilities who are qualified for a job.

Employers are not allowed to ask you about your height, weight, or details about physical or mental illnesses or limitations unless they directly relate to your ability to perform the job.

Physician’s letters and health history should not be requested during the interview process, as they have no relevance in the selection and hiring decisions or hiring process.

However, if you have serious illnesses or a workplace injury, that your employer and team should know about for your own safety, you can tell your employer.

For certain positions, employers may require that a job candidate pass a medical exam relevant to the responsibilities of the job, and to pass a drug test.

Credit score

Prospective employers may not ask job applicants about their financial status, bank account, declared bankruptcy, outstanding debt or credit history during interviews unless they are applying for specific positions in finance or banking.

Employers may check a potential employee’s credit with their permission.

If someone asks about your credit score or current salary without permission, you can simply tell them, “My credit score will not affect my ability to perform the job to expectations.”

Criminal records

Questions regarding arrests or convictions are also among the illegal interview questions. You may not be asked interview questions about arrests without convictions or political involvement, but the recruiter may lawfully ask about convicted felonies if they are related to the duties of the job.

Many companies require you to show a criminal record when you start your new job.

Depending on where you live and the job you are applying for, the employer may run your arrest record or conviction record through a background check.

Military discharge

If you have a military background, a human resources professional may ask questions in an interview about what branch of the military you served in and how you were classified.

He may also ask you about your education or experience related to the job you are applying for. In many areas, veterans are a protected class.

Questions about how you were discharged, your military record, or foreign military service are not allowed and are also among the illegal interview questions.

If you answer these questions, you can say that there is nothing in your record that would prevent you from successfully filling the position.

Questions about your past military service must not influence the hiring process.

Ask,The,Right,Questions,Concept

General tips for job interviews

Of course you want to find the right skills, personality and knowledge for your team. But there are some questions that are illegal interview questions that you should avoid during a job interview.

Often, you don’t even realize you’ve been asked an illegal interview question.

Many of the critical questions can be easily worded to turn illegal interview questions into legal interview questions.

As an interviewer avoid illegal interview questions.

Be sure to ask questions that relate directly to the job and that you can use to verify that the applicant is right for the job.

Ask everyone the same questions per topic.

Personal characteristics that are not job relevant should not have a role in the selection process and hiring.

Avoid asking questions that are too personal and find out in advance which questions are appropriate.