What are some of the questions an employer cannot ask an employee or in an interview? Finding a job is difficult, and getting a job interview with a potential employer may be much more difficult. Both the candidate and the interviewer may experience anxiety during an interview. Both sides desire to portray themselves well and create a favorable first impression. Employers fear if they are asking the proper questions, while candidates worry about their responses.
Although there isn’t a single best way to ask interview questions, some are more effective than others for eliciting a candidate’s professional background and desired work style. Additionally, it’s critical to bear in mind that while interviewing applicants, certain questions are really forbidden to ask while others are difficult to answer and ultimately serve no use.
Any interview questions that have no clear connection to your available opportunities are prohibited under employment law. It’s possible that you’ve experienced a few genuinely awful job interviews over your career. There comes a time in the interview when you determine you wouldn’t accept the job no matter what they gave you, whether the interviewer crossed a boundary to make you feel uneasy or had some ulterior motive with their probing questions.
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However, did you know that some questions that U.S. employers cannot ask you during the interview are prohibited by law?
It all boils down to possible discrimination, according to the guidelines set forth by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Questions an Employer Cannot Ask an Employee
Thankfully, regulations are in place to prevent (or at least attempt to prevent) such from happening. We’ve identified the interview topics that are totally off-limits during a job interview so that you are treated fairly.
1. What age are you?
Discrimination against workers 40 and older is prohibited by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. And as a result, it is absolutely meaningless for an interviewer to inquire about your age or birthdate. Due to limitations imposed by labor legislation, only the question “Are you at least 18 years of age?” is permitted here.
Discrimination based on age can go both ways. Older employees may be passed over since younger applicants normally cost less, while younger candidates may be passed over for more experienced workers.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits employers from asking prospective employees their age if they are 40 years of age or older. It is against the law for an employer to inquire about your age, birthdate, birthday, or high school graduation date since these details might reveal your age.
The only exceptions are when a candidate is underage or when an employee must fulfill legal obligations, such as working in a bar.
2. Do you have any physical or mental disability?
Before making a job offer, employers aren’t permitted to inquire about a candidate’s impairment or demand a medical checkup. They might inquire as to whether a candidate can perform the work with or without a reasonable accommodation, such as a wheelchair ramp.
Employers are legally permitted to inquire about your health or if you have a handicap when you apply for a job, however, The Equality Act of 2010 sets certain restrictions on the types of inquiries an employer may legitimately ask.
Because an employer is only required to make “reasonable adjustments” to accommodate a handicapped individual, they do have the right to ask. The employer is permitted to reject the application if modifications are made but the candidate is still unable to do the job.
To avoid discrimination, everyone participating in the recruiting process should be informed of what constitutes discrimination and should base their hiring decisions only on a candidate’s suitability for the position.
3. Do you own or rent your residence?
According to Betterteam, businesses are not permitted to inquire about a prospective employee’s living arrangements in the following ways:
- Whether they own or rented their house
- Whether they live alone or with someone else
- How they are connected to the residents of their home
However, they are permitted to inquire as to how long you have been at your present residence, what that address is, and how long you lived there previously.
4. Which college sorority did you belong to?
Employers are permitted to enquire about a candidate’s membership in any professional organization, but they shouldn’t do so about their involvement in extracurricular organizations like sororities, fraternities, and country clubs.
According to Betterteam, these queries might be seen as standing in for inquiries regarding ethnicity, sex, and age.
A blatantly discriminatory question would likely be obvious to a jobseeker, but there are sometimes “grey” regions and questions in a job interview that appear innocent but are, in reality, discriminatory and hence prohibited.
5. Lifestyle Decisions
Additionally, it is against the law for interviewers to inquire about a candidate’s personal lifestyle choices, such as whether or not they smoke, take drugs recreationally, or drink alcohol. Of course, a corporation might establish regulations for the use of these drugs in accordance with the employee handbook.
However, what an employee does outside of work is not the concern of the employer (apart from those sectors where it is permitted to do sporadic drug/alcohol testing, such as the railroad), thus they cannot ask questions about it during an interview.
6. Do you intend to start having kids soon?
This question should never be posed since it might elicit a lot of strong feelings. That is especially true given how unlawful it would be to not hire someone in order to provide them maternity leave. Additionally, it is illegal for employers to inquire about your daycare plans or child-rearing history.
These inquiries have been particularly utilized to discriminate against women. It is only acceptable to inquire about a candidate’s ability to carry out the job’s responsibilities.
Avoid mistakenly asking a candidate a question that makes them dislike your organization or, worse, puts you in legal trouble. Here is our list of the top 10 interview questions to avoid asking in order to better understand recruiting best practices.
7. Financial condition
Employers are permitted to inquire about your financial condition, but they are not permitted to treat you differently as a result. Inquiries concerning debt, credit, whether you rent or own property and if you drive a car (unless it’s a need for the work) fall under this category.
Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission mandates that employers obtain written consent before conducting a background check.
8. Are you married?
Employers are not allowed to inquire about a candidate’s marital status, a position as an only child, child or child-bearing plans, pregnancy, or spouse’s work.
The topic of marriage should never come up since it is forbidden for an employer to base a hiring decision on your marital status. Instead, companies may inquire as to your willingness to work extra or relocate for the position.
The Yale Office of Career Strategy advises candidates to say something along the lines of, “I can assure you that my personal life will not interfere with my professional responsibilities,” if the interviewer presses the subject further.
9. Race, color
Any kind of racial or ethnic discrimination in hiring, promotions, dismissals, and other employment-related decisions is prohibited under Title VII.
Employers shouldn’t inquire about a candidate’s ethnicity, color, or ethnic heritage unless there is a legitimate business requirement to do so.
10. Are you an American [or any particular country] citizen?
No matter what, it’s against the law for a prospective employer to inquire about your citizenship or country of origin. It’s really none of their concern, so why bother? They have the right to inquire about your employment authorization in the US. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, if you are, it is unlawful for them to discriminate against you based on anything else, such as citizenship or immigration status.
On the one hand, hiring someone who isn’t authorized to work in the US might get firms into trouble. They must immediately inquire, “Are you authorized to work in the U.S.?”
11. Where is your spouse employed?
Similarly, prospective employers are prohibited from inquiring about your spouse’s employment status.
Although a recruitment or HR professional should be familiar with employment law and ensure that all interview questions follow such criteria, it is occasionally possible for the interviewer’s ignorance or lack of expertise to be the cause.
12. What is your native language?
Employers cannot inquire about your native language, just as they cannot inquire about where you are from, even if you are applying for a position that calls for bilingualism. Instead, they may inquire about the languages you speak and your level of proficiency.
It is forbidden to inquire about an applicant’s citizenship, birthplace, or the birthplace of their parents.
Employers are also prohibited from inquiring about a candidate’s native language, although they are permitted to inquire about their ability to read, write, and speak English.
13. How frequently do you travel for training with the Army Reserve?
A person’s past, present, or potential military service cannot be a factor in any employment choices since military status is constitutionally protected. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, interviewers are also not permitted to inquire about the type of discharge you received from the military, unless they are determining whether it was an honorable or general discharge.
14. Have you ever been put in jail?
While most states do not allow interviewers to inquire about prior arrests, they may do so if the arrest resulted in a conviction. In certain areas, employers are only permitted to inquire about convictions that directly pertain to the position you’re seeking (for instance, the interviewer for a driving position may inquire about past DUI convictions). It’s important to research this before releasing your criminal history.
Although the legality differs by state, interviewers shouldn’t inquire about applicants’ arrest histories. A person cannot be denied employment based only on an arrest, according to the EEOC, because an arrest does not provide proof that a crime was committed.
Candidates should be prepared to explain any criminal histories if an employer inquires about their previous convictions.
15. Previous Salary
Federal rules do not prohibit employers from inquiring about a candidate’s prior pay. State laws do, however, prohibit it. Employers cannot inquire in California.
A salary history prohibition has been implemented in New York State. Additionally, the issue has been blocked by ordinances in certain communities, including Toledo, Ohio.
16. Do you suffer from any physical or medical conditions?
It is illegal for prospective employers to inquire about a candidate’s medical history, prescription medication use, or diagnosis of a mental disorder. According to the Yale University Office of Career Strategy, they can inquire, “Are you able to perform this job with or without reasonable accommodation” and “Do you have any conditions that would keep you from performing this job.”
17. Genetic information
Employers are not permitted to inquire about a candidate’s genetic makeup. This includes inquiries regarding a person’s genetic testing, details regarding a family member’s genetic testing, or inquiries regarding family medical history.
Additionally, employers are obligated to instruct their own healthcare practitioners not to gather that information during any employment-related tests.
18. Have you ever struggled with drug or alcohol addiction?
This inquiry comes under the same category as your level of impairment. Employers cannot inquire about a candidate’s history of drug or alcohol addiction, or if they have ever sought treatment for these addictions. On the other hand, they are permitted to do drug tests and inquire about your use of illicit substances.
19. Military discharge
Employers are permitted to inquire about the applicant’s military experience and how it could assist them execute the job they are seeking, but they are not permitted to inquire about the applicant’s discharge status or military records.
Numerous federal and state laws are in place to safeguard the rights of veterans.
20. What is your religion?
Asking this question is completely pointless because employers are not permitted to discriminate against candidates because of their religious convictions. Employers are only permitted to inquire as to whether you’d be available to work on the weekend, and even then, only if the position genuinely calls for weekend employment.
The EEOC states that inquiries into someone’s religious membership or views are typically not relevant to their jobs and are “problematic under federal law.” You should never be asked at an interview what religion or beliefs you follow.
Religious businesses, groups, organizations, and societies are excluded from this rule and are free to reject a job applicant on the basis of their faith.
21. Gender identity, sex, orientation
A candidate’s gender identity, sex, or orientation cannot be brought up during an interview. Title VII prohibits discrimination against any employee based on gender identity, sex, or orientation, but only in organizations with 15 or more employees.
It’s vital to know that sometimes questions posed in interviews may not be legal, but what’s more important is being able to spot one of these questions and deftly skirt it without shouting that it’s wrong for them to ask it!
22. What is your current height and weight?
According to Betterteam, prospective employers are not allowed to ask about either height or weight unless they can unambiguously demonstrate that it is necessary for the work. They may inquire as to whether you are capable of carrying out all the duties of the position without difficulty.
Due to the fact that such inquiries “tend to disproportionately limit the employment opportunities of some protected groups,” according to the EEOC, employers are not permitted to inquire about an applicant’s height or weight.
If an employer can demonstrate how such criteria relate to the work, they may be.
23. Occupational requirements
In very few instances, there are exceptions to the rules for “genuine occupational requirements” (GOR), which allow employers to specify specific qualifications for employees who are essential to the job in order to hire people of a particular race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin, such as a black actor for an African-themed film. Employers are permitted to discriminate in this fashion as long as they can demonstrate the validity of their standards.
24. Affiliations or memberships
Additionally, during interviews, inquiries concerning membership or connection with any organizations should be avoided unless they are directly tied to a potential issue with your time commitments and how it would influence your ability to perform the job. Remember that they can be hinting that you ought to belong to a specific group, so while being truthful is typically the best course of action, use tact if you believe your employer may rely on it.
25. Do you have a bank account?
Your credit history is protected under the provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 and the Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act of 1996. That implies that an employer cannot inquire about your bank account or if you have ever filed for bankruptcy, according to Betterteam. However, an employer is still permitted to request a credit check notwithstanding these safeguards. This credit inquiry won’t lower your credit score as other ones have.
How to handle illegal questions
You’ll need to use some diplomacy and tact to determine whether the inquiry is legitimate or just a little too nosy and off-topic.
You could be doing yourself harm if you explicitly point out that the question is unlawful and refuse to respond if the interviewer is really unaware of this. If they are unlikely to give you the job. Only respond to questions if you feel confident enough to do so. If so, do it quickly and steer the topic away from the original question. It’s crucial not to reply angrily and to maintain your composure and professionalism because the interviewer may not have meant to be discriminating.
However, if the interviewer asks you questions that are against the law and conducts the interview in a very unprofessional way, you should decline to answer since this should indicate that the interviewer is unethical and acting inappropriately and that you shouldn’t want to work for them.
Avoiding poor interview questions
There are several inquiries that should be avoided owing to anti-discrimination regulations, such as “Are you pregnant?” and “What year were you born?” There are also inquiries that aren’t a smart use of your time or that of your candidate.
If you want to learn more about a candidate and gather the data you need to assess if they are a good fit, avoid asking the following questions during interviews:
1. What is your biggest weakness?
Ah, the interview cliché of choice. When we learn what a job interview is, this is one of the first things we are told we’ll be asked, along with “What is your biggest strength?”
There doesn’t appear to be much value in the replies other than the generic “ick” they include. Most people have been taught to play up their inadequacies, or they have prepared a response that won’t genuinely reveal their professional struggles.
Ask them about a project they’ve worked on where they encountered difficulties finishing it if you want to learn about their areas of weakness. Ask them to detail how they overcame those challenges. As a hiring manager, you may learn more about the applicant’s level of reflection and self-awareness about their work by doing this, which is frequently more beneficial. Everyone encounters obstacles, but did they gain any insight from them?
2. Describe this gap on your CV, please.
While holes on a résumé may worry you as an employer, asking a candidate about them in an interview might be unsettling.
Think at it this way: People occasionally take time off to raise children or take care of ailing family members. A resume’s gaps may indicate that the applicant took time off to travel and experience new cultures. Sometimes a CV has gaps just because a candidate left omitted irrelevant employment experience.
Don’t concentrate on the gaps in your interview questions. Concentrate on the details you already know, and then ask clarifying questions rather than demanding an explanation for omitting a certain period of time from a résumé.
3. Tell me about yourself.
This sounds like a smart way to start an interview so you can get the big picture before getting into the details. However, everyone has a different perspective on what the right response is. One applicant can start by talking about their childhood in Nebraska, while another would start by explaining why they are a good match for the position.
It is preferable to inquire about what you actually want to hear and to be explicit right away. Do you want to learn about their professional aspirations, the reason they are seeking this position, or just how well-rounded they are as a person?
4. Why haven’t you been given a job yet?
You’re concerned since they’ve been looking for work for so long; something must be wrong with them, right?
First off, just because a candidate has been looking for a job for a while doesn’t mean that they are “unfit to work anywhere”; rather, it’s possible that the ideal opportunity hasn’t presented itself yet, and it may be you! Second, there’s a good possibility they don’t know, and asking them to guess what makes them unhirable would just make the interview unproductive and unpleasant. Finally, hurt.
5. Would you accept if I offered you the position?
This question has no place during the interview unless you are directly making the job offer. Even if they needed more time to think about it, prospects are unlikely to decline an offer right away (which will just make you unhappy if they subsequently decide to decline the position after you do offer it).
There are additional techniques to determine whether a candidate is enthusiastic and would devote themselves to the job. Ask them about what excites them about this opportunity or what questions they have if you’re attempting to gauge how they feel about accepting the position. You may want to check for a warning sign if they find it difficult to respond.
Instead, you should ask these interview questions
Interviews are a crucial opportunity to get to know prospects and ask the kinds of questions that can lead to better hiring decisions. Concentrate on factual, subjective, and behavioral interview questions, such as:
- What dates did you work there?
- What duties did your work entail?
- Have you used X program before?
- How would you respond if X happened?
- Where do you think you have the most room for development?
- Tell me about an instance when you recently got feedback and how you handled it.
- Tell me about a moment when making a good impression on a client was very crucial.
Inappropriate interview questions may ruin the applicant experience and, in the worst-case scenario, may even land you in legal problems! By spending the time to prepare your interview questions in advance, you can avoid asking inappropriate questions and instead concentrate on intelligent inquiries that will enable you to learn more about your applicants and start developing a working connection with them.
Any of the aforementioned interview questions that an employer chooses to use might result in claims of discrimination and an EEOC inquiry. If the problem cannot be handled, it can potentially result in legal action.
Candidates are not required to answer unlawful questions, but they can draw the interviewer’s attention to one by bringing it up. A candidate may also inquire about filing a claim by contacting their regional EEOC field office.
Retaliation against someone who reports prejudice or makes an accusation of it is prohibited. Online, the EEOC provides more resources and information for current and potential employees.