5 Illegal Questions You Should Never Answer at a Job Interview

by A Guest Author

Designed to guard against discrimination, both state and federal laws forbid employers from asking questions not specially related to the position for which you are interviewing. Should employers violate the law the can be subject to fines and various other sanctions, including losing any public funding they may be receiving.

Known as BFOQ, meaning “bona fide occupational qualifications,” anything asked during a job interview must have a direct bearing on the ability of the prospective employee to execute the tasks of the job, and cannot be designed in whole or in part to glean personal information. Additionally, there are many types of questions that are expressly forbidden by law, except under specific circumstances, specifically relating to age, birthplace, disabilities, marital or family status, national origin, race, religion, skin color or sex. Five of the top illegal questions you should never answer at a job interview are:


Known as the ADEA, the Age Discrimination Employment Act is designed to protect job seekers over 40 years of age. Prohibiting employers from asking a candidate’s age, there are two exceptions to the ADEA. First, the law only applies to employers with a workforce of over 20 employees. The second exception is if the age of the applicant somehow specifically relates to the position, such as in hiring actors to play a part where the character is a certain age. Trick questions which can be used to determine age are also illegal, such as an employer asking what year you graduated high school or college.


Under the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is illegal for employers to ask about the existence or severity of disabilities or discriminate in any way on the bases thereof. Employers are also required to make reasonable accommodations to address any impairment. Along the same lines employers may not ask about past sick days, worker compensation claims or treatment for addictions, such as drug or alcohol treatment.

Race or National Origin

With the only exception of appearance being a BFOQ, such as a modeling or acting job, employers may not ask question related to discovering your race or national origin. This includes asking about birthplace, last name or accent. Also, unless it is a bona fide occupational qualification, an employer cannot require that an applicant speak English.

Gender or Sex Based Questions

It is illegal for an employer to ask different questions of men and women, such as asking a woman what her maiden name is, to determine is she is married, or if she is planning on having a family to find out about possible future maternity issues.

Arrest Records

Under the law everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, as such it is illegal for an employer to ask if you have ever been arrested. They can however ask if you have ever been convicted of a crime.

If an employer does as an illegal question you can refuse to answer the question, but that will most certainly cost you being offered the position. You can answer the question indirectly, such as addressing the goal of the question. For example, if you are asked if you are a U.S. Citizen you can reply by asking the employer, “Do you mean am I legally authorized to work in the United States?

In the vast majority of situations, questions are not intentionally meant to be discriminatory and the employer is just ignorant of the law. If you feel the employer has been willfully discriminatory during the interview seek the advice of an attorney or contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by bpsusf

About The Author:

Robin Kingsley is an HR manager and guest author at Human Resources MBA, a site with guides and information about getting a human resources MBA.

This post was written by A Guest Author

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