Inappropriate Or Illegal Interview Questions


What questions can (and cannot) an employer ask during an interview? I often receive this question from students as they prepare for an upcoming interview. The next question inevitably is, “If an employer asks an illegal question during an interview, what should I do?” These are both great questions. And I advise all interviewees to familiarize themselves with legal guidelines around what employers can and cannot ask during the interview process. And it may also help to identify a strategy how you may handle this situation, should you encounter it.

The Ladders website has an article on this topic which may answer the two questions raised in this post:

  1. What questions can (and cannot) employers ask?
  2. What should I do if an employer asks me an inappropriate question?

Employers need to stay away from direct questions around these topics:

  1. Age
  2. Religion
  3. Nationality and Race
  4. Gender
  5. Health and Physical Abilities
  6. Marital or Family Status
  7. Residence

Equal opportunity laws protect you, the job seeker, from employer discrimination. Interview questions need to be focused on your ability to perform the job functions, rather than your social, political status, etc. There are certain times in which the employer may ask questions on these topics, as long as they relate to the job tasks. For example, it may be inappropriate for an employer to ask you how your health is, and what your physical strength is. But they may ask you if you are able to lift 30 pounds, if the job requires it. Another example: the employer may not ask what your residency status is, but they are entitled to ask if you are able to legally work in the United States.

How to handle the situation, should it arise? I often start out by saying that there are usually more than one person involved in the interview process. And not all those people are HR experts. It is possible that the person interviewing your does not know all of the legalities of interviewing prospective employees. It may not be malicious, it may just be lack of knowledge. Ultimately, it is up to you whether you want to answer the question directly. If you feel uncomfortable, it may be best to direct or steer the conversation towards legal territory. For example, if an employer asks what your visa status is, you may reply by saying that you are legally able to work in the United States.

Again, The Ladders article can be read here.

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