Illegal Interview Questions an Employer Cannot Ask

The one thing you can expect from your work interview is plenty of questions. That’s why you must prepare answers to these questions for days or even weeks in advance. But, what about the questions interviewers cannot ask during employee screening? Unlawful queries are those that touch on issues specified by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

This article will explain exactly what are illegal interview questions and topics and show several specific examples. We’ll also tell you what action to take if an interviewer asks any of these illegal queries during an employment interview.  

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What Are Illegal Interview Questions and Topics Not to Pose to Candidates?

There are some out-of-bounds topics laid out by EEOC that employers should never ask in interviews, and then we have questions that aren’t necessarily illegal but are inappropriate for an employer to ask.

Illegal Questions You Should Never Be Asked

Except for a few exceptions, in essence, a census, it is illegal for recruiters in the United States to inquire about applicants’:

  • Birthplace/ citizenship
  • Age/ genetic info
  • Marital information, family, or whether they’re pregnant
  • Race, ethnicity, or color
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Gender or sexuality

Illegal Job Interview Questions Gray Areas

Certain questions can be classified as inappropriate depending on how they are asked and what the employer plans to do with the information they are seeking from you. These areas include:

  • Height or weight
  • Medical questions
  • Financial info
  • Background checks
  • Unemployment status

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50+ Illegal Interview Questions That Shouldn’t Be Asked In 2019

So, now that we’ve cleared out what areas the law protects you from talking about, you’ll find it easy to determine the queries which you must answer and those you shouldn’t. Here is a list of illegal interview questions on various topics that talent acquisition executives should not pose:

Age

It isn’t appropriate for hiring managers to demand responses to questions touching on age. In fact, the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act safeguards employees aged above 40 against this. Examples of such unacceptable questions:

  • When is your birthday?
  • What age will you be this year?
  • Would you tell me the year you were born?
  • When did you complete high school?

Your graduation year falls under this category as it may reveal your age.

When Queries on Age Are Appropriate

Questions on age may be allowed in a few cases. Case in point, a bar owner, may want to confirm if you are over 18 before hiring you for a bartender position.

Citizenship or Country of Origin

In the majority of cases, delving into a person’s citizenship status in an interview for work is against US law. If you have legal paperwork, a hiring manager doesn’t need to know other information regarding your country of birth or citizenship. Examples of unlawful queries in this category include:

  • Are you a citizen of America?
  • Would you share your certificate of birth?
  • Where was your mother/ father born?
  • What place did you learn French?
  • Tell me more about your upbringing?
  • Where is your place of birth?

Legal Queries on Citizenship and Origin

Still, you’ll come across questions touching on citizenship that are within the law, for instance:

  • Are you permitted by law to hold a position in the state?
  • Can you speak/ write/ read in fluent English?
  • If we give you this role, will you verify your citizenship?

Also, it is alright for your prospective boss to inquire about the languages you’re familiar with if the position in question demands it, case in point, a translator role.

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Gender Identity and Orientation

Unless your gender as a job seeker is a crucial aspect of the role, queries to do with gender/ sex are generally considered inappropriate for a hiring manager to pose to a prospective hire. Examples of these queries are:

  • What is your sex?
  • Are you male or female?
  • What is your sexual orientation?
  • What would you say you identify as?
  • Have you undergone any gender transition surgeries or similar procedures?

Disability

Inquiring about someone’s disabilities or medical conditions is considered illegal. The much an employer is allowed to inquire if you undertake the duties that come with the job. Examples of these discriminatory interview questions are:

  • Are you physically disabled?
  • Have you encountered an injury at work previously?
  • Do you ail from any condition that may hinder you from performing your job?
  • Have you ever claimed worker compensation?

Marital Status and Pregnancy

Questions touching on children, pregnancy, or plans for a family should be left out of the screening room. Talent acquisition executives aren’t authorized to explore queries to do with family life. Examples of no-no questions in this topic:

  • Would you indicate your marital status?
  • Single or married?
  • Are you a parent?

Ethnicity, Color, or Race

Except for an affirmative action program, you should never ask a job seeker queries touching on race or ethnicity. Questions to keep off in these areas include:

  • Which nationality are you?
  • Which ethnic group are you from?
  • What is the color of your skin?
  • What is your race?

Religious Beliefs

Most companies are not allowed to ask religious questions. Unless it’s a religious organization, questions such as the following are illegal:

  • What religion do you belong too?
  • Are you a religious person?
  • Which denomination are you a member of?
  • Who is your priest/ pastor?

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Weight and Height

Asking queries about a person’s weight or even height can be perceived as discriminatory or racist. It’s, therefore, illegal to ask:

  • What is your weight?
  • What is your height?

Unemployment Status

Inquiring about unemployment isn’t illegal unless the information acquired is used to alienate people of a particular age, race, or group. A question like the one below would be considered inappropriate:

  • What year did you start working?

Financial Details

Queries regarding financial capabilities have often been used for discriminating minority groups. But unless they touch on religion, origin, age, race, sex, genetic details, or disability, they aren’t really illegal questions during an interview. The queries below (if intended to discriminate) are unlawful:

  • Have you purchased your home or are you renting?
  • Do you own a vehicle? (unless it is part of the position)
  • Do you have debt?

Credit or Background Checks

Background checks aren’t classified as illegal unless they are used to single out protected groups. Examples of inappropriate background or credit questions are:

  • Do you possess a bank account?
  • Has your salary been garnished?
  • Have you ever declared bankruptcy?
  • Do you rent or own your house?

Medical Queries

Among the questions that employers should never ask potential hires in an interview are those to do with medical conditions. Examples include:

  • Have you lost a limb?
  • Do you have any form of disability?

Record of Arrest

In some US states, asking about an applicant’s arrest record is against the law. You cannot ask:

  • Have you ever been arrested?

Convictions

Unless the job is a sensitive one, an employer isn’t at liberty to ask questions about an interviewee’s convictions. Any conviction questions unrelated to the job are illegal.

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Education

Questions to do with education aren’t listed as illegal. However, if they are asked to reveal one’s age, they are illegal. An example:

  • Which year did you graduate?

Availability

Availability queries aren’t illegal. But if they’re asked to discriminate some people, they may fall under unlawful questions. For instance:

  • Do you have a problem working on weekends? (it may come off as if asking about one’s religious inclinations)
  • Can you work at night? (if asking discriminately)

Military Discharge

Asking an interviewee about the kind of experience they received that applies to the opening is okay. However, asking about the circumstances for military discharge is inappropriate. For instance:

  • What was the reason for your discharge from the military?
  • Were you working in a non-US military?

Emergency Contact Info

Asking about emergency contacts should not happen before a candidate is hired. It is, therefore, wrong to ask these questions as they may reveal background, sexuality, etc.

Membership to Non-Professional Associations

Employers don’t have the right to ask about a prospective hire’s affiliations to non-professional groups. Such questions may be perceived to reveal someone’s sex, age, or even race. Some of these questions employers cannot ask include the following:

  • Are you a member of any country club?
  • What was your fraternity?

Personal Information

In some instances, personal information can reveal sensitive information about an interviewee’s place of origin, marital status, etc. Examples of such questions include:

  • What is your maiden name?
  • Have you legally changed names?

All that said, the employer might still ask something that you know is against the law or wrong. If it happens, the best course of action is to dodge the query by switching to another subject and later looking for another opening. If you’re extremely offended or wronged, you can launch a complaint against them in the nearest EEOC office. However, remember, most hiring managers are ignorant of the illegal questions an employer cannot ask and end up asking them innocently. In the meantime, practice as many typical and unusual questions for job interviews to ensure you’re well-prepared to land your dream role.

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