10 interview questions that are illegal to ask even during a pandemic

In the United States, there are certain questions that are illegal to ask during the interview process, and these restrictions are still in effect during the pandemic

Questions that are off-limits include those questions designed to reveal information about a candidate that could be used to discriminate against them. 

“State and federal laws make discrimination based on certain protected categories, such as national origin, citizenship, age, marital status, disabilities, arrest and conviction record, military discharge status, race, gender, or pregnancy status, illegal,” labor and employment attorney Lori Adelson told Business Insider

“Any question that asks a candidate to reveal information about such topics without the question having a job-related basis will violate the various state and federal discrimination laws.”

Questions that should not be asked during an interview include:

  1. How old are you?
  2. Have you ever been arrested?
  3. Are you single or married?
  4. Do you practice any religious holidays?
  5. Are you a U.S. citizen?
  6. Do you plan to have children?
  7. Is English your first language?
  8. How much unpaid debt do you have?
  9. Do you consume alcoholic beverages? 
  10. Are you a drug user?

Any question that does not pertain specifically to the job can be dangerous. And, questions that are based purely on demographics (age, race, ethnicity, origin, etc) can get organizations into hot water. 

But, there are ways to ask similar questions to these that are phrased in such a way that relates more closely to the functions of the job. 

Better ways to ask the same questions

For example, instead of asking “Where do you live?”, ask the candidate if transportation to and from the job site will be an issue. It is also okay to ask how long the candidate has lived at their current address. Note that this info might be on the candidate’s resume anyway. 

Instead of asking “How old are you?”, describe the physical requirements of the job, then ask if the candidate might have any issues with those physical demands. 

Instead of asking “Is English your first language?”, ask them to rate their personal communication skills, or ask which languages they can speak fluently. If speaking or writing a particular language is a specific job requirement, it is okay to confirm their level of proficiency in that language. 

Instead of asking “Have you ever been arrested?”, make the question more specific. For example, “Have you ever been convicted of fraud?” Naturally, all companies are susceptible to fraud when the wrong people work for them, and this question is generally okay. 

Instead of asking “Are you a U.S. citizen?”, ask if they are legally eligible to work in the United States. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission specifically recommends against asking certain types of questions, including race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or age. 

“These types of questions may discourage some individuals from applying, may be viewed suspiciously by some applicants, and may be considered evidence of intent to discriminate by the EEOC,” they wrote on their website. 

“If you do not have this information when you decide who to hire, it may be easier for you to defend your business against a hiring discrimination complaint.”