Skip to content
Home » HR Industry Articles » Questions You Cannot Ask During an Interview

Questions You Cannot Ask During an Interview

    In the realm of job interviews, it is crucial for both employers and candidates to be aware of what can and cannot be asked. While employers seek to find the most suitable candidates for their positions, they must adhere to a set of legally defined boundaries. In this article, we will explore the questions that are off-limits during interviews, as outlined by credible legal sources.


    Interviews are pivotal moments in the hiring process, providing a platform for employers to assess a candidate’s qualifications and fit for a role. However, anti-discrimination laws at the federal, state, and local levels impose restrictions on the questions that can be asked during these interactions.

    The Foundation of Anti-Discrimination Laws

    The fundamental anti-discrimination laws that set the stage for interview questions include:

    1. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: This federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
    2. Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA): The ADEA prohibits age-based discrimination against employees aged 40 and older.
    3. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA prevents discrimination on the basis of disability and mandates reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities.
    4. Equal Pay Act: This act mandates that men and women receive equal pay for equal work in the same establishment.
    5. State and Local Laws: In addition to federal laws, many states and local jurisdictions have their own anti-discrimination laws, adding an extra layer of protection.

    The Prohibited Questions

    1. Age

    Employers cannot ask questions related to an applicant’s age or birth date. Instead, they should focus on assessing a candidate’s ability to perform the job. For example, it is acceptable to ask if an applicant is over the age of 18 if there is a legal requirement for the role.

    2. Gender

    Inquiries about an applicant’s gender, marital status, or pregnancy plans are off-limits. Rather than gender-specific questions, focus on the candidate’s qualifications and relevant work experiences.

    3. Religion

    Questions about a candidate’s religious beliefs, practices, or affiliations are considered discriminatory. It is permissible to ask about scheduling preferences only if they genuinely relate to job requirements.

    4. Race and Ethnicity

    Asking about an applicant’s race, ethnicity, or national origin is not allowed. The focus should remain on skills, qualifications, and experiences that pertain to the job at hand.

    5. Disability

    Employers must not ask about an applicant’s disability or medical history. Instead, they can inquire whether the candidate can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations.

    6. Sexual Orientation

    Questions about a candidate’s sexual orientation or gender identity are impermissible. The interview process should revolve around job-related abilities and qualifications.

    7. Pregnancy

    Inquiring about an applicant’s pregnancy status, plans for children, or family status is against the law. Employers should concentrate on assessing the candidate’s qualifications and experience.

    8. Criminal History

    While it is essential for employers to maintain a safe workplace, blanket questions about an applicant’s criminal history are discouraged. Instead, consider conducting background checks after a conditional job offer is extended.

    9. National Origin

    Any questions about an applicant’s national origin or immigration status are not allowed. Employers should evaluate skills and qualifications without regard to these factors.

    Legal Sources and Specifics

    To provide a more comprehensive understanding of the prohibited interview questions, let’s delve into specific guidance from credible legal sources:

    1. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):

    The EEOC enforces federal laws related to employment discrimination and provides valuable guidance on what questions are legally prohibited during interviews. Their recommendations emphasize the importance of treating all candidates equally and fairly.

    2. State and Local Fair Employment Practices Agencies:

    State and local agencies often have their own sets of anti-discrimination laws and resources to educate both employers and employees. Employers should consult these agencies for guidance specific to their location.

    3. Job Accommodation Network (JAN):

    For disability-related questions, JAN is an excellent resource. They offer information and guidance on how to address disability-related matters in the workplace, including during interviews.

    Practical Alternatives

    While it’s essential to avoid illegal questions, employers can still obtain the necessary information to make informed hiring decisions. Here are some practical alternatives:

    1. Focus on Job-Related Inquiries:

    Ensure that your questions pertain directly to the job requirements and the candidate’s ability to perform those tasks effectively.

    2. Use Behavioral Interview Techniques:

    Ask candidates to provide specific examples from their past experiences that demonstrate their skills and qualifications for the job.

    3. Implement Structured Interviews:

    Use a standardized set of questions for all candidates to ensure fairness and objectivity.

    4. Reference and Background Checks:

    Utilize these checks to verify qualifications and assess a candidate’s suitability after a conditional job offer is made.

    5. Consult Legal Experts:

    If you have questions about what is and isn’t allowed during interviews, consider seeking advice from legal experts or human resources professionals well-versed in employment laws.


    Interviews serve as critical touchpoints in the hiring process, but employers must navigate carefully to avoid illegal discrimination. By adhering to federal, state, and local anti-discrimination laws, employers can ensure that their interview questions are legally sound. Understanding these boundaries is not only a legal necessity but also a commitment to creating fair and inclusive workplaces. Remember, the key to a successful interview lies in asking the right questions within legal boundaries, fostering a diverse and talented workforce.

    In closing, it is important to stress that this article provides an overview of the types of questions that are generally prohibited during interviews. For precise guidance tailored to specific circumstances, it is advisable to consult legal experts or relevant government agencies to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

    By following these principles, employers can ensure that their hiring practices are fair, compliant with the law, and that they attract the best talent.

    Note: Information found on this site is information only and is not intended to be used as legal advice. Please consult your counsel for specific legal advice.