Hiring Strategy

Whoops! 5 Little Known Questions You Can’t Ask in an Interview – HR Affiliates Blog

Everyone knows that you can’t ask certain questions in an interview. In fact, it’s not just a matter of being polite, but one of federal law. From 1964-1967 the government passed various Civil Rights Acts that included protections of potential employees regarding race, gender, nationality, and age. Below, we’ll highlight the lesser known questions you can’t legally ask and we’ll explain why you can’t ask them. Here are 5 topics you should absolutely avoid asking about in an interview:

Race, citizenship, or nationality

While your company is legally safe to inquire if a candidate can speak other languages (since often bi- or multilingualism makes a candidate more appealing for different kinds of work) and if a candidate can legally work in the United States, it is entirely illegal to ask for a candidate’s race, citizenship, or place of birth. Put differently, “national origin is a federally protected class.


Legally speaking, there is no appropriate way for a potential employer to ask a job candidate about their religion or creed. If you ask about a potential employee’s religion in an interview, you could be guilty of religious discrimination.

Sex, Gender Identity, or Sexual Orientation

Your company cannot legally ask about the sex, gender, or sexual orientation of a candidate, since these classes are federally protected. Further, it is illegal for businesses to discriminate against a man or woman applicant for a position.

Marital Status or Pregnancy

This class is strongly related to gender, sex, and sexual orientation. It is illegal for an employer to ask about a candidate’s marital status, or if they are pregnant or planning to be pregnant. Additionally, it is illegal to ask if the candidate has childcare arrangements. If the employee is required to travel, spend additional time away from home, etc., then it is the employer’s responsibility to clarify the expectations of the position so that the employee can plan accordingly.


The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that companies with 15 or more employees cannot lawfully discriminate against a qualified candidate with a disability. Both physical and mental disabilities are protected by this legislation. Further, it should be noted that it is illegal for a potential employer to ask about an applicant’s medications and drug prescriptions.

Navigating HR responsibilities in the 21st century can be difficult, especially as our culture continues to change and evolve. The consequences for violating federally enforced employee protections are both legal and cultural. Put differently, your company could face costly litigation and communicate a toxic reputation to potential applicants. For more information on avoiding discrimination and staying compliant, check out our blog “Demystifying Rules, Regulations, and Laws around Gender Identity Protections in the Workplace.”

If you need more immediate assistance, give us a call at 502-215-0561. We’re always happy to help!

Sign up to stay up to date

Stay informed about HR issues that matter to you with customized news delivered monthly to your inbox. Sign up now and we’ll share the most relevant developments in the world of HR.