These 5 interview questions are illegal.

These 5 interview questions are illegal.


If you interview job candidates—keep reading—this blog takes you through some seemingly innocuous questions that can get you into legal trouble. With the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in place to safeguard applicants from discrimination, some strict laws might surprise you. In this blog, I help employers avoid any legal faux pas while asking questions that will still help you identify a fit. 

First, avoid asking for anything that’s age, disability, genetic, gender identity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion-related. Avoid any queries related to marital status, pregnancy, and having a family—now or in the future. 

To stay within the EEOC’s guidelines, you must avoid any questions that can appear to be discriminatory. Questions that relate to where a candidate lives, age, arrest record, national origin, credit history, family status, financial status, marital status, pregnancy, race or color, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

Here are five illegal interview questions, along with some safe alternatives:

1. “Where do you live?”

Yes, most applicants have already disclosed their address, but don’t ask them where they live. Asking where job candidates live can be wrongly perceived as feeling out their family’s income or minority status. Instead, ask them if they’d have a problem with a commute to your local office if and when they’ll be required to work there.

2. “Where’s your accent from?”

I love accents, but I don’t acknowledge them in an interview setting, and this is why. Because when it comes to national origin discrimination is a bouquet of red flags. Asking candidates where they’re from can come off as hinting that you might not be open to applicants from specific countries. If language fluency is top-of-mind, you can formally evaluate communication skills—for every candidate—as part of the process. Just make sure it isn’t a one-off, you must have all of your candidates follow the same vetting process.

Another option is asking the candidate about their communication style and how comfortable they are with public speaking and communicating with leaders from across the company via phone and email.

3. “Do you have kids?”

I know, you want to know people have lives outside of work, that’s important. But, you have to avoid any questions involving family. Asking applicants about their kids or if they are planning a family can signal discriminatory hiring practices. 

Instead, ask candidates what they’re passionate about outside of their work. “What do you love to do outside of your workday?” This might open potential employees up to giving more insights about their family, if they do, take caution and don’t push for more. 

4. “What do you make currently?”

If your organization is based in one of the 16 states that have recently enacted state-wide salary history bans, or Puerto Rico then legally you can’t ask about current or past salaries. There is a salary history ban in place that’s limited to specific areas and sometimes public companies. But, for now, this trend is likely to continue. Lawmakers are already pursuing bans on employer inquiries about salary history in both Pittsburgh and New Orleans.

So, instead of asking candidates about their previous salaries, give candidates the salary range and ask if it aligns with their expectations.  

5. “I’m a Sun Devil too, what year did you graduate?”

I know, it’s easy to gravitate towards these types of topics when you have some commonalities with job applicants, but you want to avoid any questions that could come across as trying to pinpoint their age. Stay away from any queries that can come across as being age-related. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits any interview questions that can even hint at age discrimination.

You can’t always avoid difficult topics.

Sometimes, you need to cover some sensitive topics—like candidate availability, legal convictions, education, and physical health to meet job expectations. Exercise caution about how you ask them. Instead, ask candidates about their ability to carry out specific job-related tasks and responsibilities.

That’s where we come in!

Let us help you navigate the interview process without any legal faux pas. At Staffing Strong, we have been helping our clients engage national talent and uncover more opportunities in the new normal. Drop us a line so we discuss your hiring needs.

Meet the Author

Evelyn Vega is the Founder and President at Staffing Strong and the Past President of the Phoenix American Marketing Association. Since 1999, she’s made her career about supporting her clients in building meaningful careers and partnering with businesses in finding quality hires. In her free time, Evelyn sits on various advisory boards and enjoys practicing on her drum set!

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