Illegal and Legal Questions

Woman in wheelchairQuestions asked in an interview should focus on your qualifications for the job.

Federal and state laws help ensure that you aren't asked illegal questions, but occasionally they do come up -- purposely or inadvertently -- on an application or during an interview.

Some employers may not have a clear understanding of federal and state rules and unknowingly inquire into areas that are legally off limits.

Questions should be job-related and not delve deeply into the realm of 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 or ethnicity
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Marital/family status
  • National origin
  • 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 U.S. citizen (not legal to ask), you may reply that you are authorized to work in the United States, which is a question the employer is allowed to ask you -- and which is perfectly appropriate to answer.

Federal laws such as the Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act, as well as state law, prohibit the following questions:

  • Do you prefer to go by Miss, Mrs. or Ms.?
  • What is your maiden name?
  • What is your native language and the language you speak at home?
  • What is your ancestry?
  • How many children do you have?
  • Do you plan to have more children?
  • How do you plan to care for your children while on the job?
  • What is or was your spouse's name or line of work?
  • What is your religion?
  • Have you ever filed a workers compensation claim or been injured on the job?
  • Do you have any physical impairments that would prevent you from performing the job for which you're applying?
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • What is your hair/eye color? What is your height/weight?
  • Have you ever been hospitalized? If so, for what condition?
  • Have you ever been treated by a psychiatrist or psychologist?
    If so, for what condition?
  • Is there any health-related reason you may not be able to perform the job for which you're applying?
  • How many days were you absent from work because of illness last year?
  • Are you taking any prescribed drugs?
  • Have you ever been treated for drug addiction or alcoholism?

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 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

Perfectly Legal Questions 

You can expect to hear one or more of the following questions, which are perfectly legal.

  • What is your current address and phone contact?
  • Describe your education.
  • What experience qualifies you for this job?
  • Do you have licenses or 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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