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Common Illegal Interview Questions

- RESOURCE -

Common Illegal
Interview Questions

and Ways to Avoid Them

Interviewing candidates is one of the most critical steps of any successful hiring process. During the interview stage, it’s important to not only ask questions to gauge whether or not a candidate is a fit for your open role, but also avoid asking any illegal interview questions. If your team asks illegal interview questions, you’ll be at risk for discrimination charges, a lawsuit or even investigation by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

According to employment law, illegal interview questions include any questions that don’t directly relate to your open roles. This means questions covering such topics as age, family, gender, marriage, nationality and religion are illegal questions to ask in an interview.

Some illegal job interview questions may seem harmless or conversational, yet million dollar lawsuits against companies have been filed and won by applicants because of the subject matter of the questions. Knowing what’s safe to ask can mean the difference between keeping your company on solid legal footing – and supporting a great candidate experience – or opening up your organization to potential liability.

Employment Laws to Keep in Mind to Avoid Asking Illegal Interview Questions 

The following employment laws should always serve as a guide to ensure your team isn’t asking illegal interview questions during the hiring process.

Equal Employment Opportunity 

Equal employment opportunity refers to the right of all people to work and advance on the basis of merit, ability and potential. In the 1960s, federal and state laws made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of political affiliation, race, religion, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin/ancestry.

As a result of these laws, employers need to avoid asking questions related to these characteristics during the interview process.

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Bonus Tip: Make sure to include an equal opportunity statement in each of your job descriptions, as it will help you maintain compliance and help your job descriptions rank higher in search results.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act states that it’s illegal to ask discriminatory questions during the interview process about the applicant’s gender, race, age, national origin, religion, or other non-job-related basis.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
Passed in 1967, the Age Discriminiation in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employment discrimination against individuals’ aged 40 through 69. This includes failure to hire, discharge, denial of employment, and discrimination with respect the protected age.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA) protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace. This act prohibits employers from asking questions about a candidate’s physical or mental condition during an interview or on an application.

Job Relatedness
To ensure fairness and equality to all candidates, interviewers need to have a list of job-related interview questions, which are asked consistently of each applicant for a given position.

If the question is not related to the job performance, it should not be asked. Every employer must demonstrate a job-related necessity for asking any question. If not, you leave open the possibility that the EEOC could scrutinize your hiring process to see if discrimination has occurred.

Illegal Questions to Ask in an Interview:
What to Avoid

To maintain compliance with employment laws, we’ve outlined some of the most commonly asked illegal interview questions your hiring managers should avoid below. We’ve also shared examples of related, legal interview questions you can ask instead.

AVOID

  • How many children do you have?
  • What religion are you?
  • Do you have pre-school children?
  • Do you have a car?

INSTEAD TRY

  • What hours/days can you work?
  • Do you have responsibilities other than work that will interfere with specific job requirements such as traveling?

AVOID:

  • What is your national origin?
  • Where are your parents from?
  • What is your maiden name?

INSTEAD TRY:

  • Are you legally eligible for employment in the United States?
  • Have you ever worked under a different name?

AVOID:

  • Do you have any job disabilities?

INSTEAD TRY:

  • Can you perform the duties of the job you are applying for?

AVOID:

  • Do you own your home?
  • Have your wages ever been garnished?
  • Have you ever declared bankruptcy?

INSTEAD TRY:

  • Credit references may be used if in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 and the Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act of 1996.

AVOID:

  • What type of discharge did you receive?

INSTEAD TRY:

  • What type of education, training or work experience did you receive in the military?

AVOID:

  • What is your native language?
  • How did you learn your language skills?

INSTEAD TRY:

  • Can you explain your written and language fluency? (If the job requires additional languages)

AVOID:

  • What are the names of any clubs or societies to which you belong?

INSTEAD TRY:

  • Can you tell me about any organizations you belong to that might be relevant to your ability to perform the job?

AVOID:

  • Have you ever filed for workers’ compensation?
  • Have you had any prior work injuries?

INSTEAD TRY:

  • You cannot ask questions on this topic because they are not related to job performance

AVOID:

  • What is your religious denomination, affiliation, church parish, pastor or religious holidays observed?

INSTEAD TRY:

  • You cannot ask questions on this topic because they are not related to job performance

AVOID:

  • Do you wish to be addressed as Mr.? Mrs.? Miss? Ms.?

INSTEAD TRY:

  • You cannot ask questions on this topic because they are not related to job performance

AVOID:

  • What was your previous address?
  • How long did you reside there?
  • How long have you lived at your current address?
  • Do you own your own home?

INSTEAD TRY:

  • You cannot ask questions on this topic because they are not related to job performance

AVOID:

  • When did you graduate from high school or college?

INSTEAD TRY:

  • Do you have a high school diploma or equivalent?

What is the name and address of the person to be notified in case of an emergency?

Note: Only request after the individual has been employed.

Asking legal, impactful interview questions is one small piece of the hiring process. In today’s tight labor market, you need an effective process in place to attract top applicants, hire qualified employees and seamlessly connect new hires with your HR systems – such as onboarding, payroll and scheduling. 


Whether you run a single location business or manage employees across several locations, Hireology is here to help you streamline hiring and get new employees up to speed quickly. Learn how Hireology can help you build your best team – see a demo today.