Illegal or Inappropriate Questions
Generally, when you think of interview questions that involve race or religion, the first word that comes to mind is “illegal.” In reality, it is the way an employer uses the information she gets from your answers in deciding whether or not to hire you that could be illegal. Employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, and disability is illegal according to United States federal law. So, if an employer asks what your nationality is and then decides not to hire you based on that information, that is discrimination and is therefore illegal. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) evaluates cases where discrimination is suspected. While most questions aren't illegal according to federal laws, they may be illegal according to state laws. Here are some areas that are off-limits on a job interview:
An interviewer can't ask if you were ever arrested or if you ever committed a crime. He may ask if you were ever convicted of one.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer can't ask about a disability, even if it is an obvious one.
An interviewer cannot ask if you are pregnant or if you plan to become pregnant.
The National Labor Relations Act prohibits an employer from asking about your union affiliation.
Some questions may simply be inappropriate. For example, an interviewer shouldn't ask if you plan to have children. She shouldn't ask what your spouse does for a living. She shouldn't ask what your marital status is. These questions have nothing to do with your ability to do the job and should be off-limits on a job interview.
Tips for Answering Illegal or Inappropriate Questions
When faced with an illegal or inappropriate question, you may feel cornered. If you don't answer the question, you feel you may offend the interviewer. If you do answer it and the answer isn't what the interviewer wants to hear, you think you won't get the job.
Don't be defensive. The last thing you want to do is give the employer a justifiable reason to turn you down for the job. If you become nasty, he has his reason to not hire you and you may have trouble proving that it was discrimination. If you don't want to answer the question, you don't have to. Explain, as nicely as you can, that the question is irrelevant to your ability to do a good job. If it was truly an innocent question, the employer may apologize and move on.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handles complaints about employment discrimination. If you think an employer discriminated against you when you applied for a job, you can file a complaint with that agency. Find out where your local EEOC office is by calling 1-800-669-4000 or 1-800-669-6820 (TTY). You can also get more information by visiting
You can try to skirt the question. For example, an employer trying to determine whether or not a woman is married, may ask if she prefers to be addressed as Miss or Mrs. The job candidate can just say she prefers to be addressed by her first name and reveal nothing about her marital status to the employer.
Examples of Illegal or Inappropriate Questions
You seem a little winded from that walk. Do you have a heart condition or something else we should know about?
The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal for an employer to inquire about a job candidate's health. You do not have to answer that question and can nicely say that.
Do you see children in your future?
The employer may be concerned that starting a family may interfere with the candidate's career. However, this question is inappropriate. The candidate can simply reassure the employer of her dedication to her career without answering the question.