13 Interview Questions You Thought Were Legal (But Definitely Are Not)

When interviewing a candidate, you want to ask as many questions as possible to ensure they have the experience you're looking for and will be a good cultural fit for your organization.

However, there are certain interview questions you simply cannot ask due to laws designed to protect candidates. Violating these laws can lead to lawsuits costing the company thousands of dollars and the hiring manager their job.

Although many of these illegal interview questions are obvious, some are not. Here are 13 interview questions that look fine on the surface, but can lead to legal trouble. You should make sure to avoid them next time you interview a candidate:

1. How Many Days Were You Sick Last Year?

Although this interview question may seem prudent to ask to ensure an employee is not constantly missing work, employers are not allowed to ask about a candidate's health.

2. How Old Are You?

In the interest of protecting candidates from age-related discrimination, asking about their age is strictly off limits.

3. Where Do You Live?

Although you may want to find out how close to your office a candidate lives, this question is frowned upon because it can lead to location-based discrimination.

4. Where Were You Born?

You can ask if a candidate is legally allowed to work in the U.S., but you could be in trouble if you ask about where they were born. This is because employers are not allowed to discriminate based upon someone's ethnic origin, and questioning a candidate's birthplace can lead to exactly that.

5. What Is Your Political Affiliation?

Asking about someone's political affiliation is forbidden in order to prevent politically motivated discrimination. If you're trying to get a feel for a candidate's cultural fit, there are plenty of better questions to ask instead.

6. Are You Disabled?

If the job requires certain physical activities, you may be tempted to ask a candidate about any factors that may prevent them from completing their tasks. However, this question is out of bounds.

Instead, when it comes to assessing a candidate's physical abilities, you need to rely on asking about the specific duties necessary to the completion of the job – e.g., "Can you lift 50 lbs.?"

7. Are You in Debt?

Some hiring managers believe this line of questioning can give them an insight into how responsible a candidate is. Unfortunately for them, asking this question could land them in serious trouble.

8. Do You Have Children? / Do You Plan on Having Children? / Are You Pregnant?

Don't ask potential hires about their children or plans to have children. A candidate's family status is protected information.

9. How Did You Get That Scar, Mark, Etc.?

Asking about someone's physical appearance is generally unacceptable. If someone has a scar and you notice it, keep it to yourself; otherwise, you risk a discrimination lawsuit. Even a friendly remark about someone's appearance could be interpreted as a discriminatory interview question.

10. Have You Ever Been Arrested?

This question is illegal because of the wording. It is legal to ask someone if they have ever been convicted of a crime, but asking someone if they have been arrested is not legal. This is because being arrested does not prove fault, and a person can be arrested without being convicted of a crime.

11. Most Questions Regarding Military Service

It is best not to ask too many questions about someone's military service. Instead of questions about why a candidate was discharged or how often they have to deploy (if they're in the reserves), stick to questions about the specific skills they learned during their military service.

12. Do You Drink or Smoke?

This might seem like an obvious cultural fit question, but it's illegal. Furthermore, you cannot ask someone if they have ever used illegal drugs in the past – although you can ask if they are currently using them.

13. When Did You Graduate?

You may simply be looking to get an idea of a candidate's career progression, but this question can land you in legal trouble. The candidate may interpret it as an attempt to calculate their age and commit age-based discrimination.

There are a lot of useful questions you can ask when assessing candidates during an interview, and most of them won't get you in trouble. However, it is important to know what kinds of questions are prohibited by law or can be used against your company in discrimination lawsuits.

In order to avoid asking illegal questions, you should always plan out your interview questions in advance. Never wing it! This will ensure that your interview goes smoothly and you make a good hiring decision.

Will Zimmerman is a content marketer for Proven.