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10 Most Common Illegal Interview Questions

With unemployment in the US hovering at 7.5%, which translates to nearly 12 million, there are a lot of people looking for work. Sadly, some interviewers use this to their advantage by asking questions that are illegal. Some questions are prohibited by various Constitutional laws but that doesn’t stop them from being asked, and worse, answered. We’ve all been asked questions that are inappropriate, nosy or, whether we knew it or not, illegal. But very seldom would we call it out because we want the job and don’t want to miss a good chance, right?

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10 Illegal Most Common Interview Questions:

  1. Are you married?
  2. Do you have kids?
  3. What’s your religion or do you celebrate religious holidays?
  4. Are you pregnant?
  5. What’s your race/nationality?
  6. How much do you weigh?
  7. What’s your sexual preference?
  8. How old are you?
  9. Do you have any disabilities or health problems?
  10. Do you use drugs, alcohol or smoke?

Most of these questions are illegal because they violate the protected class status as defined by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That Act specifically states that no one will be denied employment based upon their sex, race, color, religion or national origin, and it was recently expanded to cover sexual orientation/preference. There’s also the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.

Most employers don’t want or intend to discriminate, however, and I’m not going to defend discriminatory hiring practices but I would like to give you some real examples from my past experiences.

My Hiring Stories

We hired a woman who was clearly pregnant and we were happy with the decision. After one month’s time, she was placed on bed rest. Next, she was on maternity leave and three months after the baby was born, she decided she didn’t want to return to work at all. So we ended up having to replace her. Needless to say that was an inconvenience to the company. Ideally, we wanted her to come back but her situation changed and we had to adapt. We lost money – which is never good for business.

Second example, we hired a disabled gentleman. Again we were proud of the decision. We made “reasonable accommodations” as required by law for him. We gave him extra time to get to work, perform his duties and take care of his medical responsibilities. We noticed that incrementally he needed more and more time to get to work, and more and more time away from the job. We made every effort to cooperate and accommodate him but eventually his performance was unjustifiable.  We had to let him go and  he sued us. We won only because we had proper documentation of the exceptions we made and the progressive disciplinary actions. But again, it’s something that would have preferred not to experience. More time and money lost.


Now as for age, sex, religion and sexual orientation those are off limits – unless it qualifies as a BFOQ. That’s a BONA FIDE OCCUPATIONAL QUALIFICATION, which allows an employer to make employment decisions based on protected classes if and only if it’s necessary to operate in a particular business.

For instance, to work for Hooters as a waitress you must be a female. Now there was a guy who challenged that but he settled his case and there are still no male waitresses at Hooters. Thank goodness! Another example of BFOQ can be found in the airline industry: airline pilots have a mandatory retirement age of 65 because studies show that’s when their production declines and it becomes a public risk.

Ask Better Interview Questions

Focus on questions that will uncover if the candidate will be able to complete the tasks of the job, such as:

  1. Are you able to perform the following duties without any problems or issues?
  2. Is there anything that could prohibit you from working the following shift(s)?
  3. We need coverage during the following seasons, is that a problem for you?
  4. This job is physically demanding; can you manage all the job duties efficiently?

You just need to know if the applicant can come to work day in and day out, complete all tasks, perform the job duties without distraction, cover the open shift and be professional about it. If they can’t commit to that, you don’t need to know why; why leads to judgments and that can lead to discrimination.


chris fields | illegal interview questions | common interview questionsChris Fields is an HR professional and leadership guy who also helps job seekers write great resumes. Photo Credit Laura604’s flickr.

SmartRecruiters is the hiring platform with everything you need to source talent, manage candidates, and make the right hires. Check out more interview tips on our blog.

Chris Fields

Chris Fields is an HR professional and leadership guy who blogs and dispenses great (not just good) advice at Cost of Work & ResumeCrusade.