What if You Are Asked Illegal Questions During a Job Interview?

The interview is going smoothly without any hitch. You’re excited because you start to feel like “it could happen!” Then, something happens. It comes out of nowhere. “Are you thinking about starting a family?” “How long has your family been in this country?” “How long has your family been in this country?” “Do your people place a high value on that?” or “For someone in a wheelchair, you’ve done an incredible job. Do you need any special vehicles to operate?”

These inquiries may seem quite benign on the surface and, for the most part, they are typically asked innocently. However, the structure, format, and/or context of the question may be illegal. So, how do you go about handling that? What should your reaction be?

To begin, it is important to understand the difference between an unlawful investigation and an investigation that leads to criminal or civil liability. Even if a question or comment is phrased in a hypothetical way, it does not always mean that a crime has been committed. A distinction has to be made between criminal and civil offenses. To be criminally liable, it is necessary to prove the motivation or intent for an offense. Most nonsensical questions stem from ignorance rather than malice. Even if there is no criminal motive or motive behind it, civil action can still be taken.

In our politically correct culture, we often rail against even the slightest deviation from accepted norms. However, most of these kinds of interview questions are asked in good faith or, to put it another way, in complete ignorance. Ignorance of the law, ignorance of the appropriate questions to ask, and ignorance of how others may use information in a discriminatory way.

Ironically, many nonsensical inquiries are made when an inexperienced interviewer tries to be pleasant by expressing interest in you personally and making a gentle inquiry about your personal life or family background. Consequently, any attempt by a candidate to express his constitutional rights will only serve to raise the corporate defensive shield and prevent mutual consideration. The interviewer will begin to withdraw from what might otherwise have been a high level of interest in you as a potential employee as warning lights flash and sirens sound.

So, what is a proper retaliation? The choice is yours, but one of two approaches is recommended: Either respond briefly and move on to a new topic area, or ignore the question altogether and switch the debate to a new topic area. Even if the interviewer is aware of your personal reaction, they will appreciate your willingness to move on.

Unless the investigation is explicitly discriminatory—and yes, explicit bias still occurs—your best option is to move on to something else. You have every right to end the interview and exit if you feel your interviewers are being too frank or abusive.

While rules vary from state to state, there are some areas in which employers should avoid asking interview questions.

The following is a list of some of the questions that employers should avoid asking:

  • Questions about the birthplace, nationality, ancestry, or ancestry of the applicant, the applicant’s spouse, or the applicant’s parents.

“Is Pasquale a Spanish name?” for example

  • Questions about the applicant’s orientation or marital status.

“Is this your maiden name?” for example

  • Questions on caste and color.

“Are you a member of a minority group?” for example.

  • Religious questions or observed religious holidays.

“Do your religious beliefs keep you from working on weekends or holidays?” for example.

  • Questions about physical limitations or constraints.

“Are you able to stand for long periods of time?” for example.

  • Questions related to health or related to medicine.

“Do you have any per-existing medical conditions?” for example.

  • Questions about pregnancy, contraception, and child care.

“Are you planning to have kids?” for example
In some cases, companies may attempt to create a reasonable accommodation for employees, which is generally acceptable. So, even if it seems discriminatory, a question such as “Do you need an accommodation to perform your task efficiently?” often functions as a valid check.

It is important to remember that just because an illegal question was asked, it does not imply that an offense was committed. If you elect to take legal action, the court must evaluate whether the information was used in a discriminatory manner.

One Question Every Interviewer Should Answer

Normally, you will get the option to ask a question at the end of the interview. When the interview is over, you are often offered the opportunity explicitly: “Are there any questions I can answer for you?” There is one question that you should ask every interviewer as soon as possible during the interview: “Can you tell me about the position and the person you want to hire?”

When asked correctly, this question can provide you the best opportunity to learn more about the job and your suitability for it. The second part of the question is important, as it may reveal particular areas of need that you should address throughout the interview. As a result, it is important to bring this question to the interview as early as possible. You can use an outtake question for this. Use the feedback as an answer to complete your inquiry. Make sure you’re not trying to get interviewed using this tactic. All you have to do is apply this strategy to ask this important question early in the interview.

For example, in response to the inquiry “What do you know about our company?” you can state what you know about the firm (because you did your studies ahead of time, right?) and then state that you don’t know as much about the specific job. “Can you tell me more about the position and what kind of person you want to hire?”

Find a strategic opportunity to ask this question as quickly as possible. Then, as needed, build your responses around what they are looking for in a candidate to fill the role. Keep your answers within reasonable limits, but keep the interviewer’s point of view in mind and try to suit their needs for the position. You will be less prepared for the interview if you just wing it and hope your answers miraculously land on the spot.


Phidelia Johnson is a global Human Resources Practitioner with eighteen years of leadership success. With a focus on streamlining Human Resources administration, she’s well-equipped to find the right solution to a myriad of concerns. Her experience as a commercial business leader gives her a unique ability to advocate for both the employer and the employee.
In her down time, Phidelia is a master of her kitchen, creating wonderful dishes filled with passion and flavor. If she’s not cooking delicious food, she’s stretched out with a good book. She hopes to use her experience to help others, guide company leaders to best practices, and help build better professionals and stronger organizations.

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