7 illegal interview topics you do NOT need to respond to

The last thing that will most likely cross your mind when you’re looking into applying for a new position and possibly interviewing for that “Dream Job” of yours is facing illegal interview questions. 

Honestly, when you’re busting your tail to apply for a new job, the list of to-dos is seemingly endless: 

  • Adjust your resume for the specific job
  • Complete a tedious application online
  • Custom tailor your cover letter for the job.
  • Email and connect with the right person to land an interview
  • Prepare for the interview.
  • Interview…
  • Lastly, check your email every hour until you hear back about whether you got the job. 

And with a list so long, it’s pretty common to become so preoccupied with doing your best to land a new job that an illegal interview question never crosses your mind.

However, believe it or not, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there are illegal interview questions you do not have to answer an interview. 

Today, we will identify those questions and what to do if you think you were asked an illegal question. 

Age

When interviewing and asked about your age, recognize this is not a question you have to answer, nor is it legal for an interviewer to ask you to do so. 

Asking someone their age is a form of age discrimination; this includes asking someone what year they graduated high school, especially if you do happen to be over 40.

The only exception is for roles that require a minimum age requirement, but in this case, that doesn’t classify as age discrimination, which pertains to those over 40. 

They can ask this: If a specific job requires someone to be 18 or 21, an interviewer can ask if someone is legally old enough to work that position (for example, a bartender).

Family status

While perhaps it may come across as getting to know you, if an interviewer ever asks you questions along the lines of, “Are you married or are you single? Do you have any children? Does family live with you?” there are illegal interview questions. 

Asking personal questions regarding family status is illegal because your answer could open you up to possible job discrimination (the company hires someone with no kids instead of you who has three). However, it is your choice to share this information if you decide to freely. 

Also, as it relates to pregnancy, a company cannot ask you if you’re pregnant or if you and your spouse plan on starting a family in the near future. Anything related to your family and the possibility of having kids is not within the scope of legal interview questions! 

They can ask this: “Do you have any outside commitments that could prevent you from filling the necessary shifts?” or they can ask, “Do you have extended leave planned?”

Financial status

If you have ever been asked questions relating to the following, chances are you have been asked an illegal interview question! 

  • Do you own a car?
  • Do you own a home, or do you rent?
  • Do you have a bank account?
  • Do you have bad credit?
  • Have you declared bankruptcy?

Asking questions directly related to your finances has nothing to do with your ability to perform a job; thus, you’re legally within your rights to not answer any question related to financial status. 

They can ask this: There instances under the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 and the Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act of 1996 where some specific questions may be asked. For example, someone working in the financial sector may submit a credit report when working with money.

Also, if a job requires a car to carry out duties, that can be asked too. However, if a question falls outside the scope of these specific scenarios, be sure to report it.

Height and weight

While some specific positions may require someone to be taller or in good physical health, coming out and directly asking someone their weight or height is an example of an illegal interview question. 

Just because you may carry a few extra pounds or perhaps you’re a few inches shorter doesn’t mean you are not the right fit for a position. Therefore it is not something they can ask you!

They can ask this: A company can ask you, “Can you perform all of the functions of this position?”

Race

Any question pertaining to race or ethnicity is illegal. This is a simple illegal question to identify, and any company knows asking anything race-related is a huge no-no. 

They can ask this: In some rare instances where race is a genuine qualification (think Hollywood), there are possible instances of asking someone their race. However, if you’re not an actor/actress, chances are you will and never should be asked a question relating to race. 

Religion

Similar to the race question, asking someone about their religion is something companies cannot do. If you are asked a question pertaining to your religion, this an illegal interview question, and not only should you not answer, you should report this question (which we discuss at the end of this article). 

They can ask this: None. There is not a single instance where religion can be asked as an interview question. 

Sexual orientation/gender identification:

In the rare but possible case, you are ever asked any of the following, recognize that these types of interview questions are illegal: 

  • What gender do you identify as? 
  • Are you gay?
  • Do you have a partner?

Questions relating to your sexual orientation or gender identification are illegal to ask and should never be asked because, once again, they open the door to possible discrimination. 

They can ask this: As it stands, companies with less than 15 employees can legally ask about sexual orientation and gender. 

The verdict

By no means is this an exclusive list of illegal interview questions. 

Questions relating to criminal history, citizenship, conviction history, relatives working for competitors, family history, military service, genetic information, and even more are all categories where illegal interview questions can exist. 

While most interviewers may not intentionally ask an illegal question, if you happen to understand that a question is borderline illegal, you have the right not to answer the question. Of course, if the interview trends in the direction of asking these illegal types of questions, you have the ability always to end the interview. 

This should be a strong indicator YOU do not want to work at this particular company. Of course, you are always welcome to file a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission here