13 interview questions employers can’t legally ask

Visit any organization’s human resources webpage and you’ll find the following clause posted: Persons cannot be discriminated against based on sex, race, color, age, religion, national origin, disability or any other legally protected status. This important sentence mandates that job offers can’t be denied based on criteria covered under equal opportunity laws and regulations.

But it doesn’t always stop employers from asking questions that may cause you to reveal such information. Below are 13 questions that you legally can’t be asked during a job interview.

1. Are you married?

Being single or married has no bearing on your employment status. Furthermore the answer may also reveal your sexual orientation, another topic that is off limits to employer inquiries.

2. What religious holidays do you observe?

Employers might want to know if your lifestyle may interfere with a potential work schedule. But the answer to this question also reveals your religion, which makes it illegal. However, employers can ask if you’re available to work certain days of the week.

3. What year did you graduate from high school?

Answer this question and you might reveal your age. Along these same lines, an employer can’t ask how long you’ve been working (although they can ask about your length of experience in a particular field) or your date of birth.

4. Do you have children?

A person can’t be denied a job opportunity because they have children or plan to start a family. An interviewer can ask if there are any obligations or circumstances that may interfere with certain job requirements like travel or working a flexible schedule. But asking specifically about parenthood is out.

5. What country are you from?

This seems like an innocent question if you have an accent, but remember that the answer reveals your national origin, which is illegal for employers to ask. Interviewers can ask if you’re authorized to work in a certain country.

6. Is English your first language?

An employer can’t ask you whether or not English is your native language. Employers can ask about what languages you read, speak or write fluently.

7. Have you ever been arrested?

An arrest is different than a conviction. Employers can ask about convictions related to job duties but not arrests. Note: A criminal record’s effect on your employment opportunities differs by states and industries. When researching different occupations of interest, be sure to learn whether or not having a criminal record impacts your ability to find work in the profession.

8. What type of discharge did you receive from the military?

Employers can inquire about training, education and work experience you received in the military. But they can’t ask if you were honorably or dishonorably discharged.

9. Do you have any debt?

It’s not uncommon for employers to do a credit check on potential employees. But they need to get your permission first.

10. Do you drink socially?

Asking about drinking habits actually violates the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. For example, treatment of alcoholism is protected under this act, and any information concerning a disability doesn’t have to be disclosed before receiving the official job offer.

11. When was the last time you used illegal drugs?

Employers can’t legally ask about past drug addiction, but an employer can ask if you’re currently using illegal substances. It’s also becoming more common for employers to require drug testing.

12. Have you experienced any serious illnesses in the past year?

Employers can’t ask medical questions or request that you have a medical exam before a job offer. You can be asked about your abilities to perform certain duties. Job postings list physical requirements that are part of the job duties, such as heavy lifting or sitting for an extended period of time.

13. Do you belong to any clubs or social organizations?

It’s appropriate for an employer to ask if you belong to any professional organizations. However, asking about social clubs could entice you to reveal otherwise private and protected information.


If you’re asked any of the above or similar inquiries, you can opt to end the interview or politely decline to answer the questions. Doing so may be uncomfortable, but would you rather be uncomfortable for  seconds or minutes in an interview or on a daily basis working for a company that asks illegal questions of its potential employees? Better to find out now.

Keep in mind that sometimes interviewers may accidentally ask illegal or inappropriate questions. You could answer the questions politely without addressing the direct question. For example, if asked if you drink socially, you could reply that your conduct outside the office has no impact on your professionalism during working hours.