Illegal Questions to be Aware of

Sitting in a job interview can be very stressful. We are sitting in front of someone we don’t know, hoping that between our resume and the 15-20 minutes they spend with us, we will somehow be able to convince them that we not only have the various knowledge, skills, and abilities they need, but we will be a better ‘fit’ with the organization than any of the other candidates they are interviewing. Because we are so nervous, we often don’t notice when the questions that are asked veer into dangerous territory.

Additionally, a lot of job seekers don’t even know enough about the law to know when the questions they are being asked are inappropriate, or even illegal. So let’s take a look at some questions that you may be asked during an interview that you need to be aware of, and how you should respond to them.

1. Where are you from?

Seems innocent enough, right? Just making conversation. It’s polite, right? Wrong! Asking an applicant where they are from could lead to discrimination on the basis of culture or race. If the interviewer thinks people from certain parts of the world, the country, the state, or even the city are less qualified just because of where they live, that is discriminatory. If you are asked this question, just answer with whatever address you put on your resume.

2. What year did you graduate high school?

Why is this illegal? Because the vast majority of us graduate high school at the age of 17 or 18 years old, and a little math will let them figure out your age if they have the year of your graduation. If a high school diploma is required for the job, they can ask if you have one, but not when you got it. Discrimination on the basis of age is illegal unless there is a legitimate business reason for requiring you to be a certain age. For example, many companies require delivery truck drivers to be at least 25 because it is an insurance requirement. Even so, they can’t ask you how old you are, but they can ask if you are at least 25 years old. If you are asked outright how old you are, turn the question around and ask if there is a minimum or maximum age for being able to perform the job.

3. What does your spouse do for a living?

This type of question might be asked especially if you are interviewing for a position in another state or out of your current city. It is phrased as concern for you, but it isn’t. It is an attempt to find out whether or not you are married, and that is illegal. You can’t be discriminated against for your marital status. If you are asked this question, you can politely say that you prefer not to answer questions that aren’t related to the position you are interviewing for.

4. Do you have any children?

This is another illegal question that may seem harmless, but it is illegal. Whether or not you currently have children or plan to have them in the future should have no bearing on your ability to do your job, if hired. Often, employers will try to find out how many children you have, too, and they can be very sneaky about it. If asked this question, just smile and respond that you are committed to performing the job duties assigned.

5. Do you have a religious holiday preference?

This might be phrased as a scheduling question. For example, “We provide time off for certain religious holidays, which ones would you prefer to celebrate?” This is illegal. Employers cannot discriminate on the basis of religion. AFTER you are hired would be the time to discuss scheduling, not during an interview. If you are asked this question, you can respond that you will be happy to discuss scheduling if you are offered and have accepted the position. However, you can be asked if you are willing to work Sundays. If you are not, simply say so. Don’t volunteer a reason why.

6. Have you ever been injured at work?

This type of question is a fishing expedition to determine if you’ve ever had a worker’s compensation claim, or to find out if you have a physical disability. This is an illegal question. An employer can (and should) provide you with a realistic preview of the job and ask if you are able to perform the duties as described. If you can, great. If you cannot, tell them that you can’t, but you don’t have to explain why. For example, certain types of jobs like Police and Firefighters require applicants to meet certain physical requirements due to the physical nature of the positions. If you can’t meet the minimum requirements, you won’t be allowed to move forward in the process. If you are asked if you’ve ever been injured at work, simply respond that you are physically capable of performing the job as described.

7. Are you a member of the military or the National Guard?

Applicants cannot be discriminated against because of past or current (or future) military service. The Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) protects civilian job rights and benefits for service members. Even though employers sometimes feel it is inconvenient to allow a National Guard member to attend maneuvers or be called to active duty and still retain their employment rights, it is federal law. If you are asked this question, you should look them in the eye and ask them if they are familiar with USERRA laws.

Have you ever been asked a question in an interview that you thought might be illegal? If so, comment below and let us know about it!

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