Handling Illegal Questions

Federal and state laws prohibit certain questions from being asked at most job interviews. All inquiries should be related to the ability of the applicant to perform the job functions, without discriminating on the basis of sex, age, race, national origin, religion, or sexual orientation. Keep in mind that some interviewers may not know which questions are illegal.

You have four basic options in this situation:

  • Answer the question. Be forewarned though, that giving the "wrong" answer may harm your chances of securing the position.·
  • Not answer the question. Although well within your legal rights, this option may leave a potential employer with a negative impression of you.
  • Ask the employer the reason for asking. Done tactfully, this might be a viable option.
  • State your thinking about why the employer asked the question, and give an answer speaking to that. This could be a viable option if you're pretty sure what the employer is really trying to find out.

For example, if asked "Are you a US citizen?" the employer is probably trying to find out if you are authorized to work in the United States for an indefinite period of time. You might answer straightforwardly: "Yes" or "No, I am from _____________." You might decide to not answer: "I would rather not answer that question." You might question the interviewer's intent: "I'm not quite sure I understand what you're getting at. Would you please explain to me how this issue is relevant to the position?" You might infer the interviewer's intent: "It sounds like you're wondering if I am authorized to work in the United States. I am."

Other illegal questions include questions related to:

  • Age: How old are you? When did you graduate? What's your birth date?
  • Family Status: What's your marital status? With whom do you live? Do you plan to have children? When? How many kids do you have? What are your child-care arrangements?
  • Affiliations: Which clubs or social organizations do you belong to?
  • Personal: How tall are you? How much do you weigh?
  • Disabilities: Do you have any disabilities? Please complete a medical history. Have you had any operations or illnesses? When was your last physical exam? How is your family's health? When did you lose your eyesight? How? Do you need an accommodation to perform the job? (Allowed only after a job offer has been made).
  • Arrest Record: Have you ever been arrested?
  • Military: Were you honorably discharged from the military?

To summarize, all questions should be related to the ability of the candidate to perform the job functions. Certain exceptions exist if the question relates to the functions of the job. For example, it is legal for a model to be asked about height and weight. In most cases, it is in your best interest to alleviate an employer's concerns without directly answering the illegal question. Please inform Career Services of any potentially illegal interview situations you encounter.