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Are You Asking Illegal Interview Questions?

October 7, 2011

By: Carletta Clyatt

While it’s important to protect yourself from asking illegal interview questions, there are legal alternatives to get the same information out of a candidate. Be prepared and know your options by checking out these examples of illegal interview questions, and how they can be rephrased to pass the law. 

Often, a hiring manager does not have illegal discriminatory intentions but is just trying to assess the candidates fit for the job.  While you cannot directly ask about any of these topics, don’t be surprised if you find yourself discussing family or religion with a potential candidate either. It all depends on how you phrase the question. Before you next candidate interview, you should familiarize yourself with the discrimination guidelines at:

Age?  Date of Birth?

Example of illegal questions: Possible Legal Alternatives:
~How old are you? ~Are you over the age of 18?
~When is your birthday? ~Can you, after employment, provide proof of age?
~In what year were you born?  
~In what year did you graduate from college/high school?  

Marital/ Family Status (often alludes to sexual orientation)

Example of illegal questions: Possible Legal Alternatives:
~Are you married? ~Would you be willing to relocate if necessary?
~Do you have a permanent partner? ~Travel is an important part of the job. Do you have any restrictions on your ability to travel?
~With whom do you live? ~Do you have responsibilities or commitments that will prevent you from meeting specified work schedules?
~Are you pregnant? ~Do you anticipate any absences from work on a regular basis? If so, please explain the circumstances.
~Do you expect to have a family? When? How many children will you have?  
~What are your child care arrangements?  


Example of illegal questions: Possible Legal Alternatives:
~How tall are you? ~Are you able to lift a 50-pound weight and carry it 100 yards, as that is part of the job?
~How much do you weight?
(Questions about height and weight are always illegal unless it can be proven that there are minimum requirements to do the job.)

National Origin/ Citizenship

Example of illegal questions: Possible Legal Alternatives:
~Where were you/your parents born? ~Do you have any language abilities that would be helpful in doing this job? (Legal if language ability is directly relevant to job performance.)
~What is your native language? ~Are you authorized to work in the United States?
~What is your country of citizenship?  
~Are you a US citizen?  


Example of illegal questions: Possible Legal Alternatives:
~What clubs or social organizations do you belong to? ~List any professional or trade groups or other organizations that you belong to that you consider relevant to your ability to perform this job.
~Do you go to church?  

If you find yourself in a position where you have been asked an illegal question during an interview, you have a few choices in how you respond:

  • Answer the question. Just because the question is prohibited doesn’t mean you are prohibited from answering.  If you feel comfortable answering the question, by all means go ahead – just remember that once you provide information you can’t take it back.
  • Work around the question. You can avoid answering the question directly, however, you want to be careful with this because it may seem as though you are being evasive or shifty in your responses, which may turn off the interviewer. You could also rephrase the question to try and find out what they are really after.
  • Call the interviewer on the question. You may decide that you do not want to answer the question and point out to the interviewer that they are not permitted to ask that type of question.  Keep in mind that no matter how tactfully you point out this mistake, few interviewers will appreciate having it pointed out to them.  This option might not work in your favor in terms of job offers.
  • File a discrimination claim. If you believe you have been discriminated against or a potential employee makes a decision regarding employment based on questions asked illegally, you have the right to file a discrimination claim. You can do this through an attorney that has experience with labor issues or by contacting your local U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office.


This is not a complete list and should be used for reference only.  When in question, you should seek legal advice. 

Some information on this page was gathered from:

Carletta Clyatt

Carletta Clyatt, a popular seminar speaker, is the SVP at The Omnia Group. She offers clients advice on how to manage more effectively and gain insight into employee strengths, weaknesses and behaviors. For more information about employee behavioral assessments, call Carletta at 813-280-3026 or email:

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