We often prepare to interview a candidate by writing down the questions you will ask by focusing on what the candidate has achieved and what they can or cannot do. However, what is often forgotten are the forbidden interview questions. Asking the wrong question can get you and your company into trouble. In the US, and many other countries there are laws in place to prevent discrimination. If you ask the wrong question to a candidate, you could be accused of discrimination.

If you need to understand if a person can meet special requirements for the job, there are ways to ask without creating a concern for discrimination. Here is a list of forbidden interview questions and ways to ask them that define your expectations without getting you and your company into trouble.                                                  

Forbidden Interview Question – Age

If you need to understand if the person is legally able to work, don’t ask:

  • How old are you? 
  • What is your date of birth?

 You may ask, “Do you meet the state minimum age requirement for work?” and “Are you over 18?”

In the US, any person over 40 years of age is a protected class. It is important they are provided the same opportunities for employment as someone 39 years of age or under.

Forbidden Interview Question – Availability for Work and Travel                                

If the job requires the candidate to work special hours or travel out of town, you can ask if they are able to meet the requirements. However, inferring someone with children cannot meet those needs is not ok. Don’t ask:

  • Do you have children?
  • What are your childcare arrangements?

You may ask, “These are the hours of work — can you attend work during these hours?” and “Work sometimes requires overtime. Can you work such a schedule?” and “Do you have any obligations that would keep you from work-related travel?”

It is also important to remember if you are having a conversational interview, and the candidate mentions their children, don’t ask follow up questions about the age of their children or any discussions about childcare and the like. It can still be considered that you asked specific personal questions.

Forbidden Interview Question – Birthplace and Citizenship

Oftentimes, to ensure a candidate can legally work for a US company without a visa or visa assistance, they are asked about their residency status during the application process. It is not necessary to ask again. You should never ask:

  • Where were you born?
  • What is your native language?

You may ask, “Are you legally authorized to work in the United States?”, which again is usually asked during the application process.                                                                       

Forbidden Interview Question – Clubs and Affiliation

If the ideal candidate should belong to Toastmasters or a Marketing Association, or any other organization that pertains to the job, you can ask about their professional club or affiliation. You cannot ask if the person belongs to a political or religious group for example. Such as: 

  • What church do you attend?
  • Are you a Republican or Democrat?

Forbidden Interview Question – Disability   

During an online job application process, there is a separate survey that asks about disabilities, if the person is a veteran, and the applicant’s race. The applicant can choose to answer the questions. Those questions from the separate survey are anonymous. The information is collected without including the name of the candidate. These questions are used to ensure diversity and are reported to a government agency.

During the interview process, questions such as the ones listed below should never be asked.  

  • Do you have a disability?
  • Have you ever filed for workers’ compensation?
  • Have you ever been treated for any of the following conditions or diseases (followed by a checklist of various illnesses)?
  • How many days were you absent from work because of illness last year?
  • What prescription medications are you taking?

You can ask, “Is there anything that might prevent you from meeting the expectations of this job?”          

Forbidden Interview Question – Economic Status or Criminal Record                                                

For some jobs, passing a credit report and background check are required to be hired. It is best to leave economic status or a criminal record investigation to HR. There is no need for you to ask:

  • Have you ever filed for bankruptcy?
  • Have you ever had your wages garnished?
  • Do you own your own home? 

Forbidden Interview Question – Relatives

Lastly, whether or not a person plans to become pregnant or have a family is irrelevant to their abilities to be successful in their role. There is no reason to ask the following.

  • Are you married?
  • Do you have children?
  • Do you plan to get pregnant?

Rule of Thumb

You should always ask questions that help you determine if the candidate can actually perform the job you offer. However, you should never pry into a candidate’s personal life or ask questions which could violate any discrimination protection law. It is also advisable, if a candidate offers up personal information such as “My children and I were talking about my interview today”, don’t respond with a forbidden interview question. It is always best to keep your interviews professional and focused on the candidate’s skills, knowledge, and abilities.          

For further understanding of the US discrimination laws, review the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) EEOC website.