Illegal Interview Questions

Illegal Job Interview Questions

Illegal job interview questions solicit information from job candidates that could be used to discriminate against them. Asking questions about a candidate's race, religion, or gender could open a company up to a discrimination lawsuit.

Asking questions on these topics can result in charges of discrimination, an investigation by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and potentially a lawsuit if the issue cannot be resolved.

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Illegal Interview Questions To Ask
According to the EEOC, It Is Illegal to Ask a Candidate Questions About Their:
  • Race, Color, or National Origin.
  • Religion.
  • Sex, Gender Identity, or Sexual Orientation.
  • Pregnancy status.
  • Disability.
  • Age or Genetic Information.
  • Citizenship.
  • Marital Status or Number of Children.

Illegal Interview Questions and EEO Guidelines:

Subject

Permitted

Not Permitted

Notes

Address

How long have you been at your current address? What is your current address? What was your previous address and how long did you live there?

Do you own your own home or rent? Who do you live with? How are you related to the people you live with?

Age

For some roles age is a legal requirement (working in a bar) so it is acceptable to ask a candidate their age directly and ask for proof.

What year were you born? When did you graduate high school?

Arrest Record

Usually only law enforcement agencies can ask and exclude based on their arrest record. For other businesses it is OK to ask if the arrest is directly related to the role they applied for and relatively recent, but you are walking a very thin line.

Avoid any questions relating to arrests if it is not directly related to the job or in states where it is illegal to ask. (i.e., they have not been convicted yet so could be innocent).

See convictions below for arrests that have lead to convictions. Also, rejecting applicants based on arrest record has been shown to impact some racial groups.

Availability

What days and shifts can you work? Are there shifts you cannot work? Are there any responsibilities you have that could make it difficult for you to travel for work? Do you have a reliable way of getting to work?

Directly asking about weekend work could be seen as a proxy question for religious observance. Also, questions about evening work or childcare arrangements can impact females who have childcare responsibilities. Asking if they own a car could be seen as racially discriminatory unless it is a requirement of the job.

Ask all candidates the same questions on this subject. Asking only women about evening work can be discriminatory as it ties into questions about family status.

Citizenship or National Origin

Are you legally eligible to work in the United States? Can you show proof of citizenship/visa/alien registration if we decide to hire you? Are you known by any other names? Can you speak, read, and write English?

Are you a US citizen? Can you provide a birth certificate? What country are your parents from? What is your background? Where were you born? How did you learn Portuguese?

Asking about other languages is fine if it is a job requirement such as a translator or Spanish speaking phone operator.

Convictions

If the role the candidate applied for is security sensitive then it should be fine to ask questions about convictions. Candidates dealing with large sums of money (cashier, treasurer, money transfer agent) or aligned roles where the candidate is working unsupervised such as janitor, custodian, or truck driver could all be considered security sensitive.

Don't ask questions about convictions for roles that are not security sensitive or ask about convictions that have no connection to the role. For example asking a receptionist about speeding convictions.

Rejecting candidates purely on conviction record has been shown to disproportionately impact some racial groups. If this question is important then best to ask it later in the interview process so candidates can be excluded for legal reasons first.

Credit Inquiries

In general do not ask questions about this unless you are sure it is permitted under the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 and the Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act of 1996.

Do you have a bank account? Do you own a home or rent? Have your wages ever been garnished? Were you ever declared bankrupt?

Disabilities

Accurately describe the job then ask the candidate if they can perform all of the functions.

Do you have a disability? Have you ever filed a workers compensation claim? Have you ever suffered a workplace injury?

Education

Do you have a high school diploma or equivalent? What university or college degrees do you have?

What year did you graduate high school?

Emergency Contact Name

Only after employment is confirmed.

Do not ask this as part of any pre-employment interview questions as this could be seen as a question about national original or sexual orientation.

Employment

How long did you stay at your last role? What was start and finish titles? What is your current and expected salary?

When did you first start working? (age discrimination)

Some states prohibit questions about current salary.

Family Status

Do you have any commitments that might prevent you from working the assigned shifts?

Are you married? Are you single? Do you have any children?

Ask all candidates about outside commitments, not just women, or it will be seen as discriminatory.

Financial Status

Do you own a car? (only if a requirement of the job)

Do you own your own home? Do you own a car?

Due to the relationship between poverty and some minorities, questions on this subject can be very sensitive.

Height or Weight

Accurately describe the job then ask the candidate if they can perform all of the functions.

What is your height? How much do you weigh?

If you can definitively prove a specific height and/or weight is required for the job, then it is fine to ask, but this is usually unlikely.

Marital Status

None

Are you married? Are you single? Do you have any children?

Military Service

What experience and training did you receive while serving that would be beneficial to this job?

Direct questions about discharge or non-U.S. military service.

Organizations

Are you a member of a professional organization?

Are you a member of the local country club? What sorority did you join?

Avoid all questions about non-professional organizations that could be seen as a proxy question about race, age, sex, etc.

Personal Information

Have you ever worked for us before under any other name? What are the names of your personal references?

Did you ever change your name through marriage or court application? What is your maiden name?

Pregnancy

How long do you plan on staying with us? Do you have any leave planned?

Are you pregnant? Are you trying to have a family?

Even if a candidate is obviously pregnant, it is not acceptable to ask any questions about this subject. You can still describe the job and then ask if they can perform all functions.

Race or Color

Almost always not acceptable unless it is a bona fide occupational qualification.

All questions about color and race.

This is a hot topic question and best to get legal advice on if you are unsure.

Relatives

Do any of your relatives currently work for us or our competitors? Can you provide the names of your relatives who work for us?

What is the name of your relatives who work for our competitors?

This does become discriminatory if your company has issues hiring minorities as it could look like you have a preference against hiring them.

Religion or Creed

None

What denomination are you? Who is your pastor?

Sex, Orientation, or Gender Identity

None

None

Illegal Interview Questions Table Download:

Download all the illegal interview questions above in a PDF and use them to create your own EEO guidelines.

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Illegal Interview Questions
What Questions Are Illegal to Ask During an Interview?
  • Are you Hispanic?
  • Do you go to church?
  • How much do you weigh?
  • How old are you?
  • What country are you from?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • How many children do you have?
  • Are you married?

The examples above are pretty direct. Don’t make the mistake of asking illegal questions indirectly either. For example, asking someone what year they graduated high school would be indirectly asking about their age.

Also, during the course of an interview, candidates may offer information about themselves voluntarily that would answer an illegal interview question. If this happens, do not follow up on the topic, and do not consider it when making your hiring choice.

Exceptions To Illegal Interview Questions
Exceptions to Illegal Interview Questions:

According to the EEOC, exceptions can be made in cases when information is needed for a “bona fide occupational qualification.” In cases where an employer is worried that a person may not be able to perform the job due to health or disabilities, it is appropriate to ask how they would perform it.

Legal Interview Questions
What Are Legal Interview Questions?
  • What is your current (or previous) salary?
  • What is your expected salary?
  • What do you expect to accomplish in the first 30, 60, and 90 days on the job?
  • What people or companies are doing the best job in our industry? Why?
  • Why are you leaving your current role?

Next Steps:

Check out our guide to phone screening questions, and second interview questions.