Written by Avvo Staff

Questions an employer cannot ask at an interview

Employers have a lot of leeway in deciding whom to hire for an open position. They are even free to disqualify you simply because they don't like you. However, discriminating against you based on certain protected statuses, such as gender, race or religion, is illegal. Therefore, there are certain questions that interviewers cannot ask at an interview. Employers are free to ask questions relating to a candidates ability to perform a job, such as previous job responsibilities and skills related to the open position. They may even ask about reasons for leaving a previous job or applying for the open position, which may speak to a candidate's ability to fit into the company culture. Here are some questions that could be considered discriminatory:

Have you ever been arrested?

An arrest is not the same as a conviction and may not be used to disqualify a candidate. In certain industries, especially those involving working with children, it may be legal to ask about arrest records. State laws vary on how far into the past an employer may look as well as which industries may do so.

Do you have any serious medical issues?

A candidate's medical issues are a private matter and, if they do not interfere with the ability to work, an employer has no right to the information. Conditions that may require reasonable accommodations are covered under disability rights laws.

Do you have any disabilities that would prevent you from doing this job?

Employers may not discriminate based on disability. If no disability is apparent, an interviewer cannot ask about the possibility. If a disability is apparent, the employer may ask only about reasonable accommodations the candidate may need.

Do you or does your family have a history of mental illness?

Again, mental illness is a disability and a private matter.

Are you married?

This question has no relevance to ability or skills required to do a job. An employer concerned with running a thorough background check may ask if a candidate has worked under any other names.

Are you pregnant or planning to become pregnant?

While pregnancy and children can cause some disruption to work routines, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes discrimination due to pregnancy or related medical conditions illegal. If the concern is for a candidate's ability to travel or work overtime, an employer should ask about those issues specifically.

Do you believe in God? Or, what religious holidays to you observe?

A person's religious beliefs have no bearing on the ability to do a job. Even if the goal is to determine ability to work weekends (for example, a candidate who observes the Jewish Shabbat would not be able to Friday nights or Saturdays), a better approach would be to inform a candidate about the possibility of weekend work or overtime and ask if this is acceptable.

How old are you? Or, when are you planning to retire?

Employers may not discriminate based on age, and so have no valid reason for asking these questions. An employer may only verify that a candidate is old enough to legally work.

What nationality are you?

Ethnicity has no bearing on a candidate's ability to perform a job. Employers also may not ask about citizenship or a candidate's native language, but may ask if a candidate is authorized to work in the US.

Where do you live? Or, Do you live nearby?

Even if the position is with a government agency that requires employees to live within the city where they work, the employer cannot discriminate based on where a candidate currently lives. Employers may ask if a candidate is willing to relocate or is able to start work at a specific time.

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