Avoid These Illegal Interview Questions

An attempt at a discrimination graphic.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Interviews can turn out to be a variety of things; from a formal and proper question-and-answer session, to a casual meeting over coffee or lunch.

In fact, some of the best interviews with Human Resources, hiring managers or employers will change pace over the course of the meeting; going from a traditional give and take to a relaxed conversation, taken at a comfortable pace.

Of course, not every interview turns into a bonding session, but many will change tone at one time or another, sometimes wavering back and forth from formal to relaxed.

This desire to learn everything about a potential employee is undeniably a worthy goal, but shifting gears to something more relaxed can prove to be dangerous to the employer. Yes, you truly want to know skills, as well as past accomplishments and successes.

What you don’t need to know are things like race, religion, disability or marital status. The problem arises when, in the moment and particularly if a candidate is close to being right for the job, the wrong question slips out.

That would land you and your business in hot water.

As a reminder of which are off-limits to ask a candidate in an interview, here are some of the biggest illegal questions. Avoid these whenever the opportunity crops up, even if you are comfortable enough with the candidate and feel the urge coming on to ask:

Disability and Health

There is categorically no reason an employer should ask a job seeker about family medical history or disabilities. This type of personal question is not only rude but illegal.

The trick here is that your question could be seen as avoidance of health insurance issues or future time off as a result of health. It could be seen as discrimination, and opens the door for possible legal action against you. They might even have a good case.

Stay away from any questions related to these issues, no matter how “conversational” the exchange may become. If you think you should ask, stop and ask yourself why you need to know.

If there is a physical aspect to the job, make sure you word any questions in an appropriate, non-offensive way. If the job requires heavy lifting, instead of asking about disabilities, try asking the candidate if they “are able to lift up to 40-50 pounds.”


The age of a candidate, like a disability, should have no bearing on the hiring decision.  It could be the fastest way to end up in front of a judge, defending against a discrimination suit.

Besides, with the average age of job seekers slowly creeping upwards, your company may be missing out on some well-qualified and experienced talent.

The only age-related question that is relevant is whether a candidate is over the age of 18. That’s it.

Family Status and Religion

It may be a no-brainer, but marriage, family status or religion; living arrangements and so on are considered protected information. Asking about any of these, without a clear relation to the job functions or requirements, is another fast track to a discrimination charge.

You can certainly ask how to contact the candidate. If they bring up their spouse, partner or anyone else, it could be reasonable; you still must be extremely careful in using any of that information as a reason to hire (or not).

To be perfectly safe, simply avoid any questions that are not directly related to the job you are trying to fill. To put it bluntly, just stay away from illicit questions. They are just not worth it.

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Published by @philammann

Put. That coffee. Down. Writer/editor/whatever it takes. @margaretj13 is my (much) better half. Website: FloridaPolitics.com Email: phil@floridapolitics.com Twitter: @PhilAmmann

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