Human Resources Blog - Spark Hire

Illegal Interview Questions

It’s true that you want to learn everything you can from a job seeker in a job interview. You want to know what kind of skills they possess, how they succeeded in the past, what makes them a great employee and much more. What you don’t need to know though is what race they are, if they have any disabilities or how old they are. Things like this should never come up in the interview or hiring process. In fact, if they do it could put you into a lot of legal trouble with your job seeker. Why? Because interview questions like these are illegal, as most employers and hiring managers should know.

Everything you talk about and ask in a job interview should follow suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Failing to do so could lead to much trouble and a lack of candidates for your position as well. So what are some interview questions you should never ask?

Most hiring managers know what questions are off limits, but for those that do not we are here to help.

Disability and Family Genetics
According to Justine Lisser, a senior attorney with the EEOC, these are two things that are completely off limits for employers to inquire. There is no reason an employer should be asking a job seeker about disabilities or family medical history. For starters, it is a highly personal question that many people will find offensive and rude. Secondly, asking about a job seeker’s health implies you are trying to avoid any health insurance issues or possible absences due to health. This may be seen as discriminatory and if the job seeker wants to take legal action against you, they may have a good case. To avoid any kind of issues this may present, be sure to stay away from questions related to this. You should also ask yourself why you are asking about this in the first place. Is it because you are trying to discriminate, or does the position require physical fitness? Is it a physically rigorous position? If so, then you can ask interview questions that are more specific and less discriminatory.

Instead of asking, “Do you have any disabilities?” ask questions that specifically relate to the position. If lifting heavy objects is part of the job, you can ask a question like, “Are you capable of lifting objects that weigh 30-60 pounds?” Since it is directly related to the position and heavy lifting is part of the job, this is acceptable.

As with disabilities, age should never be a factor in your hiring process. Asking questions about a job seeker’s age can land you in a deal of trouble. Plus, if you are trying to avoid hiring older job seekers, you are losing out on a huge pool of talent. Experienced workers have a wealth of knowledge and likely years of experience under their belts. Age discrimination should never find its way into your hiring process. If you need to know if someone is of age before you hire them, then it is legal to ask if the job seeker is 18 or older. That’s all the room you have though when it comes to age. That is why it is best to avoid discussing age altogether.

Other Interview Questions to Avoid
It should be pretty obvious the aforementioned topics have no place in the interview and hiring process. However, there are a few other questions that should be avoided in the job interview that may not be as obvious. For instance, it is illegal for an employer to ask a job seeker about their living arrangements, but you can ask them how you can contact them. It is illegal to ask job seekers if they are married or have a permanent spouse. There is no reason an employer would need to know something like this. The same goes for asking job seekers about children.

It is also illegal for employers to ask job seekers if they are pregnant. You can, however, ask if they will be expecting any extended absences in the near future. You want to be very careful with this kind of question though.

As you can see, you need to be very careful about the kind of interview questions you ask job seekers. In order to avoid any kind of discrimination, be sure you are consistent across the board when it comes to asking job seekers questions. Of course, you can ask specific questions when it comes to qualifications and skills, but anything outside of that arena can be dangerous grounds. Stay away from illegal interview questions and avoid discrimination at all times in your interview and hiring process.

Have you ever asked a job seeker an illegal interview question without knowing it? Have you ever been asked an illegal interview question? Share with us in the comments section below!

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by

Nicole Nicholson

Nicole is the Content Editor for Spark Hire and mainly writes for and edits the work for the Spark News blog. She graduated in 2010 with a BA in Journalism from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. She has a passion for writing, editing, and pretty much anything to do with content. In her free time she frequents the Chicago music scene and writes reviews on shows for her own personal blog. Connect with Nicole and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter