EmployTest Logo

Interview questions you are, and are not, allowed to ask.


What you can and cannot ask during an interview.

What you can and cannot ask during an interview.

When interviewing candidates for a new position, it’s important to stay away from any questions that may be considered discriminatory. While that might seem obvious, it’s not always easy to tell which questions are, and are not, legal.

The United States Equal Opportunity Commission protects against discrimination based on a candidate’s age, disability status, gender, genetic information, national origin, pregnancy status, race or religion, according to the agency’s website. Any question designed to identify those characteristics should be removed from your interview bank. Be extra careful to avoid bringing up these personal topics even if a candidate is friendly and initiates a more intimate conversation about family life or personal responsibilities.

People do not need to identify what religion they believe in or if they actively practice those beliefs. While it may seem relevant for scheduling purposes, employers cannot ask “do you observe any religious holidays,” according to Business Insider. Instead, ask what shifts a person can or cannot work.

If you’re concerned about the possibility of prayer breaks interfering with a daily schedule, make sure to emphasize the break policy and ask if it’s acceptable.

Older man with folder in handsAsking any question that could date a person is considered illegal.

Never ask a candidate when they were born or how old they are.

While you may be tempted to relate to a person who went to the same school or grew up in the same area as you, it’s considered inappropriate to ask when someone graduated high school or college because a simple calculation can allow you to determine that person’s age range. The same logic applies to asking when an individual started working, according to Betterteam, which puts that question on the “not allowed” list as well.

Ethnicity and birth place 
If you notice someone has an accent or mentions their home country, steer clear of asking where they were born. Rejecting someone for a role based on their birthplace or ethnicity is against the law. Surprisingly, asking for an emergency contact before hiring an applicant can also be seen as a method of identifying a person’s country of origin, so be sure to save that for post-hire paperwork.

In customer service roles, a native level of English fluency may be required to answer questions and respond to concerns. However, asking an applicant if English is their first language can help identify their birthplace, which makes it potentially discriminatory. Instead, give any potential hires a grammar and spelling test, or ask to do a mock phone call during which you see if they can understand complex questions and respond accordingly.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 protects against job discrimination based on disability.

In some cases, questions about physical ability may be important. For example, an airplane pilot cannot be blind. Instead of asking about seeing ability, make sure to outline job responsibilities ahead of time and then administer a test that measures a person’s vision if it is directly related to the job. Keep in mind that if you’re hiring a customer service representative who will be exclusively talking on the phone, giving a similar test would not be considered appropriate because a seeing impairment would not directly impact the person’s ability to do the job.

Addiction is also protected under this regulation which means both “have you used illegal substances?” and “how often do you drink?” would be unacceptable questions. In addition, administering an breathalyzer or alcohol test before employment falls under the category of potential discrimination and should only be given after an employment contract is signed.

The list of interview questions that may be considered illegal might seem long and intimidating. However, a good rule of thumb is that if you’re unsure about a topic or inquiry, just don’t ask.