Illegal and Legal Questions

Woman in wheelchair

Questions asked in an interview should focus on your qualifications for the job. Federal and state laws help ensure you aren’t asked illegal questions, but occasionally they do come up on an application or in an interview. Some employers may not have a clear understanding of federal and state rules and inquire into areas that are legally off limits.

Questions should be job-related and not used to find out personal information. Employers should not ask about any of the following, because to not hire a candidate because of any one of them is discriminatory:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Sex 
  • Religion 
  • National origin 
  • Birthplace
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Marital/family status
  • Genetic information

Illegal Questions

For the candidate, it’s a good idea to have a plan of action ready if illegal job interview questions are ever asked. Think through possible illegal questions ahead of time and decide how you will handle them. 

If you encounter illegal questions, you can be prepared to respond. You are attempting to determine why the interviewer is asking such a question. If you know the intent of the question, then you can reply with an appropriate answer. For example, if you are asked whether you are a United States citizen (not legal to ask), reply that you are authorized to work in the U.S., which is a question the employer can ask you and which is appropriate to answer.

Resources

Most illegal questioning is not deliberate. However, any individual who believes that his or her employment rights have been violated may file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or the Minnesota Department of Human Rights by contacting:

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(612) 335-4040 (Minneapolis Area Office)
800-669-4000

Minnesota Department of Human Rights
(651) 539-1100
800-657-3704

Perfectly Legal Questions

You can expect to hear one or more of the following questions, which are perfectly legal. In other parts of this book and this chapter, we address difficult questions that pose challenges, especially if you are an ex-offender looking for a chance to right your life.

  • What is your current address and phone contact?
  • Describe your education.
  • What experience qualifies you for this job?
  • Do you have licenses/certifications for this job?
  • Are you willing to travel?
  • What name(s) are your work records under?
  • Are you available for overtime?
  • Do you have the legal right to work in the United States?
  • Have you served in the U.S. armed forces?
  • Do you have any convictions other than misdemeanors?
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