interview questions

Illegal Interview Questions [INFOGRAPHIC]

Illegal Interview Questions

When interviewing applicants, always avoid asking illegal interview questions.  

What constitutes an illegal question, you ask?  

Anything on the subject of an  applicant’s age, race, origin, gender, marital status or sexual orientation are included in a list of no-no questions and should be avoided at all costs.

Check them out in this infographic!

Illegal Interview Questions Infographic


Anything on the subject of an  applicant’s age, race, origin, gender, marital status or sexual orientation are included in a list of no-no questions and should be avoided at all costs.

As you can see, there are some strange grey areas in what can and cannot be asked in a job interview.

For example, you may not ask a candidate about prior problems with drug or alcohol abuse. However, you may ask them if they currently use illegal drugs.

This is just one example of a tricky situation where your wording of a question could get you into serious trouble. I am no lawyer (far from it!) but, in these grey areas, I would highly advise steering clear of these lines of questioning.

Potential employees are protected under Equal Opportunity Laws. Additionally, these laws are becoming even more protective of the candidate.

Interview Laws Are Changing

In the summer of 2016, Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker passed an unprecedented law. This law prohibits prospective employers from asking candidates about their salary history.

This law is intended to protect a candidate from being low-balled due, not to experience or worth, but simply due to what they earned in their former occupations. In addition, laws like this are expected to close the wage gap between men and women in the workplace.

This is all very exciting to a candidate, sure!

Being paid your worth is incredibly valuable and closing the wage gap between men and women is a huge issue across even the most giant companies in existence.

However, this increasingly large list of illegal interview questions can make the interview process harder to navigate.

Hiring Managers Don’t Know Legal from Illegal

In fact, CareerBuilder reported that one-third of hiring managers did not know that these following questions could get them fired (and their company sued!)

  • What is your religious affiliation?
  • What political party do you support?
  • What is your ethnicity (or race, or color)?
  • How old are you?
  • Are you married?
  • Are you disabled?
  • Do you drink (or smoke) socially?
  • Are you in debt?
  • Do you have children or plan to?
  • Are you pregnant? (Seriously, never ask this question!) 

Some of these seem like pretty obvious questions to avoid. However, hiring managers must also keep in mind that these questions could easily sneak in during more casual rapport between themselves and the candidate.  

Avoid these questions!

Besides for the aforementioned questions, there are obvious questions a hiring manager would never ask.

There are questions that no sane human should ever ask because they are downright rude (seriously, who would ask an applicant their weight or height?)

Some questions, however, toe the line between being informative to the hiring manager and, at the same time, completely illegal.

We put together this list of questions that are illegal, questions that are, well, questionable, and some that are “A-Ok” to ask instead.

We lay out exactly what questions you should never ask during an interview.

Absolutely Illegal Interview Questions

  • When are you planning on having children?
  • Have you been arrested before? It is legal to ask if they have been convicted, but not arrested.
  • What is your marital status?
  • How many kids do you have?
  • Are you a United States citizen?  It is only legal to ask if they are authorized to work in The United States.
  • What clubs or organizations do you belong to?
  • How tall are you and what is your weight?
  • Do you have any illnesses or prior illnesses?
  • Were you honorably discharged from the military?
  • How long do you plan to work before you retire?
  • Do you take any medications?
  • Do you have any debt?
  • What is your religion?
  • Do you like to drink socially?
  • What is your nationality?
  • What disabilities do you have and what is the severity?
  • When did you move to or arrive in The United States?
  • What is your gender?
  • What religious holidays do you celebrate?
  • Have you ever used drugs before?
  • Have you ever brought a lawsuit against an employer?

Extremely Inappropriate Interview Questions (and what to ask instead!)

Have you been convicted of a crime?

Technically, the phrasing of this question is legal.  However, if you are asking a question like this, you are getting into shaky territory and a line of questioning that could cause you to pose an illegal follow-up question.  Instead, consider running a background check in order to legally gather this kind of information. 

Have you had a drug addiction in the past?

Again, technically this question is legal. However, this is the only question about drug addiction that is legal. This can lead into shaky territory, as well. If you have suspicions about illegal drug use, try your best to assess. From there, you may also have the candidate agree to drug testing. 

What was your salary at your last job?

If you are reading this in Massachusetts, then this question is illegal. This is becoming a bit of a scandalous question to ask. Instead, consider asking your candidate what their salary target is for the position. 

Are you a United States Citizen?

You guessed it! Illegal! You may ask if a candidate is eligible to work in the US and that is all you may ask on this topic. 

Legal Interview Questions

There are many legal interview questions, duh. 

A good rule of thumb is to ask questions that probe into a candidate’s experience, skill set, goals, strengths, weaknesses and how well the candidate works with others.  

In fact, structure your interview beforehand. Have a list of questions you want to ask, so that you do not get distracted enough to ask an illegal question.

A common thread you will see in the illegal questions is that many of them are extremely personal and have no bearing on whether a candidate can successfully complete the work at hand. 

In Conclusion

As with any interview process you are going to run, make sure everything checks out with HR and legal, if you have those resources.

When any of the questions you have prepared seem the least bit iffy to you, avoid them!

If that particular job includes needing to reach on a high shelf for files, don’t ask for height and weight.  Investing in a step stool is much more economic than entering a costly litigation!

Happy hiring!

What other crazy illegal interview questions have you heard come up?

Tell us in the comments!

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Caileen Kehayas

Caileen is the Director of Marketing at Proven. When she is not blogging or tweeting, she likes to hit the nearest trail for a run, take her camera on a trip or curl up with a good book.

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