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Top Five Interview Questions That Are Legal to Ask

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What are Interview Questions?

In an employment setting, job interview questions are used to determine whether a candidate will be suitable for a specific job position.  The job interview is one of the main ways that an employer can learn about a future employee, and so they must ask them several questions related to their background and the job. 

On the other hand, employers cannot ask certain questions, mainly due to employment discrimination laws.  Thus, employers need to be very careful when formulating interview questions so that they don’t violate any laws. 

What are the Top Five Interview Questions That are Legal to Ask?

Most of the time, it comes down to framing the question in a certain way so that it won’t be considered discriminatory.   The top five interview questions that are legal to ask are:

  1. “Do you have the legal right to work in the United States?”-  It is legal to ask this question both under employment laws and immigration laws.  On the other hand, the employer cannot make direct personal inquiries regarding the applicant’s personal heritage or national origin.  Such inquiries may be categorized as discrimination based on national origin.
  2. “Can you perform the work that is associated with this position” – This is allowed to ensure that the employee will be able to perform the work thoroughly and safely.  However, the employer cannot inquire as to the nature or severity of any disabilities that the person may have; this can lead to disability discrimination
  3. “Are you over 18?”- Here, asking about age is acceptable in order to determine whether the person is of legal age or not.  The employer can’t treat the employee differently than others on account of their age (i.e., age discrimination); also, they can’t estimate the applicant’s age during the interview process. 
  4. “What experience or education qualifies you for this position?”- Asking about credentials or education may be necessary for certain jobs, especially ones that legally require the person to be certified for the position.  For entry-level/remedial positions, the employer should not directly ask whether they have a high school diploma.
  5. Questions about children – In most cases, it is acceptable for the employer to ask about the number and ages of any children that the applicant has for insurance purposes.  It is not acceptable to ask other questions such as whether the children live at home, or whether the person plans on having any more children.

What if I Believe That an Interview Question Was Discriminatory?

Thus, as you can see, all interview questions should be limited to determining information that is strictly applicable to the position being applied for.  Any questions that go beyond this may be an illegal interview question, and can often lead to a discrimination claim.

If you believe a discrimination claim is discriminatory, you have the right to politely refuse to answer the question.  Or, if possible, you can try to attempt to decipher what the employer’s intent is in asking the question, and simply provide them with information that is appropriate.  Often times, an employer may be just as nervous as the applicant.  If you believe that you have been discriminated against, it may be necessary to file a legal claim.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Employment Laws?

Employment interviews can often involve various legal issues that might be difficult to deal with.  You may wish to hire a lawyer if you have any questions or disputes regarding interview questions.  Your attorney can inform you of your rights under your state’s employment laws.  Also, if you need to file a lawsuit, your attorney can represent you during the court hearings.  

Photo of page author Jose Rivera

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 07-02-2013 12:10 PM PDT

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