Illegal Interview Questions You Thought Were Harmless

Businessman being interrogated at desk with several bright lights shining on him
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Ever find yourself uncomfortable in an interview because of a question asked? There's a good chance it could be illegal. Below are ten common and illegal interview questions. And while many HR and Recruiting staff know that these questions are illegal, many hiring managers do not.

Where Were You Born?

While this question seems innocent enough on the surface, it could be used to gather information illegally about national origin. Although it may seem more relevant, hiring managers are also not allowed to ask “Are you a U.S. citizen?” Employers may ask whether you are authorized to work in the United States but not specifically about citizenship. They may also ask for documents proving your authorization to work in the U.S. after you have been hired.

What Is Your Native Language?

Again, the problem is that this question could be used to determine national origin. The employer can ask whether you know a particular language only if it is required for the job. For example, if job responsibilities include supporting Spanish-speaking customers, it’s fair to ask if you speak Spanish.

Are You Married?

Here’s another question that would seem innocent in most settings but is not allowed in a job interview. Employers are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of marital status, so this question is not allowed.

Do You Have Children?

Even though this sounds like a casual, innocent question, it is not allowed in a job interview. It’s covered by a general prohibition about discrimination over parental status.

Do You Plan to Get Pregnant?

This question is not legal. Employers used to ask this of women to avoid hiring someone that would go out on maternity leave. It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender and on the basis of pregnancy.

How Old Are You?

Age discrimination is illegal, so this question is off-limits. Some companies have tried to avoid hiring workers over a certain age for fear of higher insurance costs, the potential for more absences, and for general age bias. For this reason, employers are not supposed to ask what year you graduated from college, either, unless there is some job-related reason for the question.

Do You Observe Yom Kippur, Good Friday, or Ramadan?

Employers can’t discriminate on the basis of religion, so this question is illegal. Employers can ask whether you can work on holidays and weekends (if it’s a job requirement), but not about the observance of specific religious holidays.

Do You Have a Disability or Chronic Illness?

It is illegal to use disability or medical information as a factor in hiring, so these questions are illegal. If the job would require some specific physical task, such as bending to install cables in walls, the employer can ask if you could perform those tasks with reasonable accommodation.

Are You in the National Guard?

Although some managers may find it disruptive when employees leave for duty, it’s illegal to discriminate against someone because they belong to the National Guard or a reserve unit.

Do You Smoke or Use Alcohol?

In general, employers can’t discriminate on the basis of the use of a legal product when the employee is not on the premises and not on the job.

Updated by Laurence Bradford