With the need to hire new staff possibly on the horizon for you, it is important to make sure that your hiring processes are fair, forthright, and an excellent reflection of the work culture. Hearing the topic illegal interview questions to avoid may make you scoff, but some questions are not so obvious as being inappropriate. Failing to avoid these questions can lead to legal issues for your company due to the potential discrimination they may bring about.

The first question to skip is, “What part of town do you live in?” While it seems harmless, it may look like you are trying to figure out if it is an area with a high concentration of minorities, which could lead to an interviewee viewing it as discrimination. If you are worried about them being able to show up on time, instead ask, “Is there anything that would prevent you from showing up on time at the start of your shift each day?”

Another seemingly harmless question to avoid is, “I graduated from the same high school as you. What year did you graduate?” You may have found common ground with the person you are interviewing, but avoid asking questions such as this because it could be viewed as your way of gaining knowledge about their age.  The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects others from age discrimination and this inquiry could be problematic.

A third question to avoid is “Being a start-up, we tend to have younger managers. Would that be a problem?” as this once more poses a threat to the ADEA. If you are presenting this question to see If the worker is okay with working under less experienced managers, phrase it in a way that takes age out of the equation and focuses on experience.

A fourth query to avoid is, “When was the last time you used drugs?” since this could cause someone to accuse you of discriminating against recovering addicts. It is suggested that if you could come about information from a third party to do so, and instead ask permission to be able to administer a drug test. 

Question 5 to avoid is, “Have you ever had a brush with the law?” Studies have shown that certain minorities are arrested more often and this chain of thought could be shown to have underlying racial tones. This may be another example of third party information proving to be helpful. Only in rare instances can you ask for this type of information, and only when it’s specifically related to the job, and usually can be asked only after employment has been offered. For instance, if hiring a driver, knowing if they’ve had a DUI arrest may be necessary, but can’t be asked until they have been offered employment contingent on a clean driving record.

Question Six to skip: “I hear an accent. Where are you from?” To avoid the possibility of discrimination, request instead that they list the languages they are fluent in and formally request a writing sample. 

Question seven to remove from your interview: “How many kids do you have?” Avoid any questions regarding children or the plan to have children. Even if your interview has tapered off into small talk, be mindful of trekking into this territory.

Question eight to skip is, “What are you currently earning?” Bans have been set up in certain states and territories that make it illegal to discuss salary history. As time goes on, more and more states are adopting these bans. To be safe and compliant, do not discuss or ask this question. In place of it, ask them for what they expect their salary to be with your company.

It is a good rule of thumb in interviews to have the same set of questions and expectations on paper for every candidate. Keep your questions to the point and in relation to the company, the position for which you are hiring, and your expectations of the candidate. Taking a look and reevaluating your questions periodically as laws pass is important to ensure you are impartial and clear of any claims of discrimination.

If you need a referral to an HR representative who can help you make sure your questions are compliant and legal, give me a call at 310-534-5577 or We’d be happy to give you someone who will help you make sure that you do everything legally.

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