Employers: Make Sure You’re Avoiding These Illegal Interview Questions

August 9, 2018 Amanda Krebs

illegal interview questions

When navigating the legalities of the hiring process, it is critical that employers word their questions carefully and respectfully. Not only could you alienate a talented candidate if you make a misstep, but you could also violate the law with an illegal interview question and become the target of a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit.  As states crack down on employment discrimination, employers should be sure that they treat every candidate with respect and dignity.

Additionally, many employers do not ask certain interview questions to be discriminatory, but rather to be conversational or to get more information about how an employee works. As a result, it is critical that you know exactly which interview questions are illegal. Plus, you must carefully think about why you are asking a specific question to see if there might be a better way to phrase it.  

Read below to learn which questions to avoid during an interview, plus other questions you can ask that will give you a better idea of a candidate’s background and experience.  


This type of question could come in many forms, but any question relating to gender should be avoided. This includes questions like: 

  • Are you comfortable managing an all-male team? 
  • Are you comfortable reporting to a female manager? 
  • As a single mom, do you think you can balance caring for your children with your work responsibilities? 

Better question to ask: Tell me about your previous management experience… OR Tell me about a time where you had a disagreement at work… 

Citizenship Status or Country of Origin

Any question hinting at a candidate’s citizenship status or country of origin is off-limits. Additionally, this includes questions about a candidate’s race or ethnicity. While this may seem obvious, these questions can sound very innocent, like: 

  • Where are you from? 
  • Where are your parents from? 
  • Are you a US citizen? 

Better question to ask: Are you legally allowed to work in the United States? OR What do you like about living here?  


Another seemingly harmless illegal question is any question trying to pinpoint the age of a candidate. Because age discrimination is a concern for both older and younger job seekers, avoid questions like: 

  • What year did you graduate high school? 
  • What year were you born? 

Better question to ask: What is your experience with Microsoft Excel? OR Tell me about your internship experience… 

Marital or Family Status

Questions surrounding these topics are off-limits because they often discriminate against single parents and those planning to start a family. As a result, avoid questions like: 

  • Are you planning to have children in the future? 
  • Have you made arrangements for childcare during work hours? 
  • What does your spouse do for a living? 

Better question to ask: Do you have any commitments that might prevent you from working your assigned shifts? 


Any questions about religion—even for scheduling purposes—are not permitted. This may include questions like: 

  • Will you need any personal time for religious holidays? 
  • Do you attend church on Sundays? 
  • Who is your rabbi? 

Better question to ask: Do you have any scheduling conflicts in the month of December? OR What do you like to do outside of work? 

Current Salary

While this question isn’t illegal everywhere, the New York City Council recently passed a law banning employers from asking questions about current or previous compensation—and other states are following suit. As a result, be sure you don’t ask questions like: 

  • What is your current salary? 
  • What kind of benefits did you receive in your last job? 

Better question to ask: What are you looking for in terms of compensation for your next role? 

DISCLAIMER: The Execu|Search Group has made every attempt to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information provided in this article. If you have any questions about these laws, please reach out to your legal counsel. 

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