Illegal Interview Questions That Employers Shouldn't Ask You

Watch out for these red flags and learn how to reply if you're asked an illegal question.

Illegal Interview Questions That Employers Shouldn't Ask You

Be on the lookout for illegal interview questions.

Job interviews can make even the most prepared candidates uncomfortable. But although the hiring manager is in the driver’s seat, there’s a chance they’ll make a wrong turn and ask a question that is off limits—a question that you don’t have to answer, and sometimes definitely shouldn’t. That's why you need to be able to spot illegal interview questions.

You might think it's easy for hiring managers and recruiters to know what they can and can not ask of candidates, but some areas are a bit tricky. Plus, people make mistakes. That's why the onus is on you to be aware of illegal questions to ask in an interview.

The Civil Rights Act of l964 “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.” As a job seeker, you want to be able to spot red flags that could indicate you’re not being treated fairly. These five illegal job interview questions are off-limits to hiring managers.

Illegal Interview Questions

  1. Do you have any physical or mental disabilities?
  2. When are you planning to have children?
  3. Will you need time off for religious holidays?
  4. What country are you from?
  5. How often are you deployed for Army Reserve training?

1. “Do you have any physical or mental disabilities?”

Why it’s illegal: The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) says it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a qualified applicant or employee with a disability. Private employers with 15 or more employees, as well as state and local government employers, must abide by the ADA.

Note that that the ADA prohibits employers from asking discriminatory questions before making a job offer; after a job offer has been extended, employers are permitted to ask questions about disabilities as long as they ask the same questions of other applicants offered the same type of job, not just applicants with an obvious disability.

Similar illegal interview questions:

  • “What prescription drugs are you currently taking?”
  • “Have you ever been treated for mental health problems?”

2. “When are you planning to have children?”

Why it’s illegal: Sex is a federally protected class, which means an employer cannot discriminate against a male or female job applicant.

A hiring manager simply may have concerns about the applicant’s ability to perform the job duties (such as travel or work overtime). If that’s the case, the interviewer needs to ask the candidate directly about job-related responsibilities (e.g. “This job requires five days of travel per month. Do you have any restrictions that would prevent you from doing that?”).

Similar illegal interview questions:

  • “What kind of childcare arrangements do you have in place?”
  • “What are your plans if you get pregnant?”

3. “Will you need time off for religious holidays?”

Why it’s illegal: Religious discrimination is prohibited, so employers are barred from basing hiring decisions on a person’s religious beliefs, observances, or practices.

Similar illegal interview questions:

  • “What is your religious affiliation?”
  • “What church do you belong to?”

4. “What country are you from?”

Why it’s illegal: National origin is a federally protected class. Consequently, employers cannot base hiring decisions on whether an applicant is from a different country or of a specific ethnicity.

Similar illegal interview questions:

  • “What is your nationality?”
  • “You have a strong accent. Where are you from?”

5. “How often are you deployed for Army Reserve training?”

Why it’s illegal: Because military status is a federally protected class, companies cannot make employment decisions based on a job candidate’s past, current, or future military membership or service.

Similar illegal interview questions:

  • “Will you be deployed any time soon?”
  • “What type of discharge did you receive from the military?”

If you happen to be in a situation where an interviewer asks you an illegal question, how you respond is entirely based on your comfort level. You could simply state, “That doesn’t affect my ability to perform the duties of this job,” and leave it at that. Or, if you feel the potential employer has crossed a line, you have every right to end the interview and leave. Granted, this is a difficult thing to do if you really want or need the job, but on the flipside, would you really want to work for someone who indicates a bias?

Question: Are You Ready for a Job? Do This Next

Sitting in a room with strangers and answering their questions is bound to make even the most seasoned job seeker uncomfortable. But if you've been subjected to illegal interview questions, you're better off finding some different companies to apply to. Could you use some help? Create a free profile on Monster today. You'll get valuable interview insights and useful job-search tips sent directly to your inbox—did we mention it's free?—to help you feel prepared for whatever is thrown your way. Having strong, focused answers will give you a boost in the self-esteem department (as well as the job-search department).

This article is not intended as a substitute for professional legal advice. Always seek the professional advice of an attorney regarding any legal questions you may have.