15 Interview Questions Employers Legally Aren't Allowed to Ask
These are the interview questions that are off the table.
It's highly likely that, over the course of your career, you've had a few truly terrible job interviews. Whether the interviewer made you feel uncomfortable by crossing a line or had some malicious intent with their far-reaching inquiries, there comes a point when you decide you wouldn't take the job no matter what they offered you.
Fortunately, there are laws in place to prevent that from happening (or at least try to prevent that from happening). To ensure you're treated fairly, we've uncovered the interview questions that are completely off-limits during a job interview.
"Are you a U.S. citizen?"
No matter what, it's illegal for a potential employer to ask about your national origin and whether or not you're a U.S. citizen. Because when it comes down to it, it's none of their business. What they can ask is whether or not you are authorized to work in the United States. And if you are, it's illegal for them to discriminate against you based on anything else, such as citizenship or immigration status, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
"How old are you?"
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prevents discrimination against employees ages 40 and above. And because of that, it's completely irrelevant for an interviewer to ask you anything regarding your age or date of birth. The only question that is allowed here is "Are you at least 18 years of age?"—and that's because of labor law restrictions.
"Do you have any disabilities or medical conditions?"
Potential employers are not allowed to ask if you have a disability or medical condition, if you take any prescription drugs, or if you've been diagnosed with a mental illness. What they can ask is "Are you able to perform this job with or without reasonable accommodation," and "Do you have any conditions that would keep you from performing this job," according to the Yale University Office of Career Strategy.
"Have you ever been an alcoholic or addicted to drugs?"
This question falls under the same category as your disability status. Potential employers cannot ask applicants if they've ever been addicted to alcohol or drugs, or if they've ever been to rehab for these addictions. On the other hand, they are allowed to administer drug tests and ask if you're currently using any illegal drugs.
"What is your religion?"
Employers are unable to discriminate against applicants for their religious beliefs, which means asking this question is totally irrelevant. The only question employers are allowed to ask is whether you'd be able to work on the weekend (and even then, the question should only be asked if the job actually requires work on the weekend).
"Have you ever been arrested?"
While interviewers in most states cannot ask if you've ever been arrested, they can ask if you've ever had an arrest that led to a conviction. In other states, employers are only allowed to ask about convictions that relate directly to the job you're applying for (for example, the interviewer for a driving position could ask if you've ever been convicted of driving under the influence). To find out the law in your state, check out this free resource from nolo.com. It's worth looking into before you hand over your arrest records.
"What is your native language?"
Just like employers are not allowed to ask where you're from, they're also not permitted to ask what your native language is—even if you're applying to a job that requires you to be bilingual. Instead, they can ask which languages you speak and how fluent you are in each.
"Are you married?"
Because it's illegal for an employer to make a hiring decision based on your marital status, the subject of marriage should never come up. Instead, employers can ask if you'd be willing to relocate for the job or put in overtime. If the interviewer continues to push on this issue, respond with something like "I can assure you that my personal life will not interfere with my professional responsibilities," writes the Yale Office of Career Strategy.
"Are you planning to have children soon?"
This question can bring up a ton of loaded emotions and should never be asked. That's especially true since not hiring someone to avoid giving them maternity leave is incredibly illegal. Additionally, employers can't ask what you will do (or already do) for childcare and whether or not you already have children.
"Where is your spouse employed?"
On a similar note, potential employers cannot ask where your spouse is currently employed. For the best strategies for answering the questions interviewers are allowed to ask, check out How to Ace Every Common Job Interview Question.
"What sorority were you in in college?"
While employers are allowed to ask if potential employees are part of any professional organizations, they shouldn't inquire about an applicant's participation in other types of groups, such as sororities, fraternities, and country clubs. These questions could be seen as proxies for questions about race, sex, and age, according to Betterteam.
"How often are you deployed for Army Reserve training?"
Due to the fact that military status is federally protected, an employer cannot inquire or make decisions based on a person's past, present, or future service. Interviewers also cannot ask what kind of discharge you received from the military, unless it is to ask whether or not it was an honorable or general discharge, writes the Society for Human Resource Management.
"Do you own your own home or rent?"
According to Betterteam, employers are not allowed to ask the following questions related to a potential employee's living situation:
- If they own their home or rent
- Who they live with, or if they live with anyone
- How they are related to the people who live in their home
They are, however, allowed to ask how long you've been at your current address, what that address is, and how long you lived at your previous address.
"Do you have a bank account?"
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 and the Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act of 1996, there are protections that exist to keep your credit history confidential. According to Betterteam, that means an employer can't ask if you have a bank account or if you've ever declared bankruptcy. However, despite these protections, an employer can still ask for a credit check. Unlike other credit inquiries, this one will not affect your credit score.
"How much do you weigh?"
Unless a potential employer can definitively prove that a certain height or weight is required to perform a job, they are not permitted to inquire about either, says Betterteam. They are able to ask if you're able to perform all of the functions of the job without an issue.
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