How to answer illegal questions (job interview)

I just came back from an interview and while I was in the interview the Director of Sales (this is my 5th interview call back) asked a lot of questions that were blantantly illegal.

I know from being a manager at my past job I took seminars about what is and not legal. He asked me where I lived. If I owned a car. If I was married. If I had children. How old was. I don’t know about other states these are definately illegal in IL. I answered them because quite frankly I don’t care but one time (it was at a Catholic Hospital interview) I was asked my religion.

How do you tell someone nicely that they can’t aske questions like that?

BTW the other people I interview with (H/R, The Revenue Manager, The GM and the lady’s who’d job I would be doing) asked nothing inappropriate. All stricty questions about my ablity to peform my job.

You could gently ask “what does that have to do with the job?” and see what the answer is. Or, if you don’t get the job, you can sue. Of course, it will be your word against your interviewer. It’s probably more trouble than it’s worth, and you may not be able to prove that you weren’t disqualified for other reasons. But going to court should wake those folks up.

Stick the info in your pocket if needed later.

Yer pal,

I would say your answer would depend on how much you want the job. Firstly, I would be suspicious of any company that asks those questions.

Your responses could range from
“I don’t quite see how this is relevant”
"I’m not sure why you’re asking this question.
“Do you realize that your question is illegal? Perhaps you should check with the Director of Human Resources on appropriate interview questions.”
“Pull the other one! It’s got bells on.”
“You will be hearing from my legal counsel”
“<beep> you. Eat <beep> and die, mother<beep>”.

In any case, I would document what questions were asked of you in the interview, it might come in handy later in case you have legal issues with the company.

Jacques Kilchoer
Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.

I should have realised I was making a bad career move when I was asked at interview:

  • are you married?
  • do you plan to get married?
  • will you sign a contract to buy a new house in the are within 6 weeks? (this one brought protests from the other board members)

I still took the job (naive, hopeful…), but resigned after 3 months. They paid me 3 months salary in lieu of notice, so I got a holiday in Australia out of the mess

Just tell them your lawyer told you not to answer those! :smiley:

Whoa! That was weird.

My message was “auto-censured!” :slight_smile: The last sentence was supposed to be:

“beep you. Eat beep and die, mother beep”.

Put since I typed it the word beep surrounded by less than/greater than signs, the beep word must have been interpreted as an HTML command.

Jacques Kilchoer
Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.

Hmmmm. I think for now I would note the offending questions and sit tight. My response would be based on the ultimate outcome. If I got the job I would confidentially and politely inform HR that I had noted those questions during the interview and that they are forbidden by Federal law. I would do this in the spirit of “potentially saving the company future grief and large sums of money”. I would suggest interview training for all hiring managers.

If I did not get the job I would write a letter to the HR rep noting the inappropriate questions and politely informing them that I was leaving open my options for legal action. If I truly believed I was disqualified based on my answers to one or more of those questions, I may pursue legal action.

In any case, I would feel obligated to inform the company so they would have the opportunity to stop the violations. The last interviewer could simply have been untrained in interviewing (not an easy task if done correctly) or a could be a loose cannon who is putting the company in jeopardy. Either way, if it were my company, I’d want to know.

The overwhelming majority of people have more than the average (mean) number of legs. – E. Grebenik

  1. Take note of the fact that they asked you a possibly illegal question.

  2. Turn it to your advantage. For instance:

Interviewer: “Are you married?”
You: “I’m not sure why you’re asking - if you’re worried about my being able to work overtime (something positive about overtime).”

This makes you look good, doesn’t embarass the heck out of the interviewer (who might not have known those questions were illegal - lots of managers don’t have to take HR classes), and you made a note of it to mention to their supervisor, if you need to.


First I would ask the interviewer, “Does this have any impact on your hiring decision?” If he answered no, my response would be, “Then I’d prefer not to answer.”

But if he said yes, I’d answer all the questions (truthfully, of course), and carefully write down every question and answer. Upon getting home, I would double-check to be sure of the law’s wording. I’d then mail a certified letter to the interviewer’s boss and the head of Human Resources, informing them of the illegal hiring practices going on in their company; it would include a transcript of the relevant portion of the interview, pointing out the questions that should not be allowed.

Presuming I did not eventually get the job, I’d send a letter to the interviewer, CC’d to his boss and the HR director, asking why I was not chosen for the position. If they made any reference to the illegal questions, or if they didn’t have a very good reason for choosing another candidate over me, I’d have grounds for a lawsuit.
But a less-confrontational person would probably just say something like, “You know, it’s technically not legal for you to ask me that question, so I’d prefer not to answer it.”

Laugh hard; it’s a long way to the bank.

I thought “you. Eat and die, mother.” was a perfectly good retort.

Why do we even have laws about this? Let us face it, not even a hospital and other businesses that do not operate for a profit, cannot afford to be bigots, etc. when they hire.

There is no safety for honest men but by believing all possible evil of evil men.

–Edmund Burke

Jacques, you have invented/discovered the Internet equivalent of the self-cleaning oven! :slight_smile:

Oh, haha. like anything you guys say is gonna get him the job…

Won’t matter now, though.

I don’t know anyone sued for asking if you are married or not…

Let me get this straight: asking questions about marital status, children, etc. is illegal under federal law? I’ve seen job applications (in Texas) asking me to put down the names and ages of any and all children that are my dependents. I didn’t have kids then (or now) so it didn’t apply to me, but I did tell the interviewer that I wouldn’t want to divulge that much detail on my family if I did have any offspring.

I’m also quite leery of these tests that seem to aim at creating a psychological profile of the applicant–mostly ethics oriented (“Do you agree that it’s OK to steal from your company”?) but still . . .

One more random question–I know that it’s illegal in many states to tap one’s own telephone (witness dowdy old what’s-her-face in the Monica Lewinsky scandal), but can a person covertly tape his or her own coversations with people at their businesses or in public (such as when talking with an interviewer)? Would it be admissible evidence in a lawsuit? I know that carrying a “wire” might have lethal consequences if you happen to be talking to a member of the Gambino family, but I’ll confine my question to law enforcement.


Fifth interview? You’re in, but it depends on how much you want to gamble on it…

Consider giving the Dir of Sales an odd look, but answering indirectly, toward his probable intent. Children? You would of course give the job a true professional’s energy and focus., etc. etc.

The search committee will probably meet and have collective colonic spasms over this idiot’s stupidity. BTW, if he hasn’t had basic training in employment law, they shouldn’t have let him interview w/o the HR person present. Bad move on their part.

After you accept the job, quietly fill the HR person in on what happened. Emphasize that it placed you in an awkward position.

And BTW, job hunters, be careful of your resume. It’s amazing how much illegal information people volunteer. Companies that have been put through the litigation wringer may discard your resume out of hand if you volunteer age, number of children, indicators of race, etc. That’s an extreme example, but I worked someplace where it was done.

When you’ve been sued for a few gazillion dollars and lost, the Sgt. Shultz defense looks good, I guess: “I know nooothing!”
I always wondered about the legality of THAT, because the HR head was a total corrupt jerk, but hey, it was her ass, not mine.



I don’t know about TX but in IL it is illegal to ask about kids or marital status. However if you volenteer the info that is OK.

It sometimes is a matter of how you ask. For instance you can’t ask do you have a car. This implies status etc. You could ask “Do you have adequate means to transportation so you would be able to perform to the job’s requirements.” See the difference. ( to which they would say yes or more likely yes I have a car, or yes I take the train. So you get your answer in a “legal” way)

In my case it was obvious he was interested in my sexual orientation. Which is most likely an insurance thing. For instance I was the Reservation Supervisor, I had 5 reservation agents, two had AIDS. One was cool but the last one played it so that he did exactly what he had to do to get the insurance. Of the 5 months he was with my dept. he was out sick for about 3 of them. He worked enough to get the insurance only. I was “encouraged” by management to shy away from gay people for this reason. But of course not officially.

I guess it’s just tricky as how can you say tactfully and w/o offending someone “Hey this is illegal.”

At an interview for my first job as a lawyer, the managing partner asked “Do you cry easily?” (Gotta wonder how manny of the MALE interviewees he asked that question of!)

I got the job, and for years was one of only two women at that firm. By the time I got fed up and quit – ten years later – they had made exactly ONE woman partner.


We’re up against the ADA in our hiring – what a mess.

Our lawyers say we have to offer someone a job BEFORE they’re given the standard physical exam. The only way to fail the physical is to test positive on the drug screen.

Since it’s factory work and physically demanding, we are allowed (our lawyers tell us) to describe the physical activities involved (bending, twisting, lifting, repetitive motion, etc.) and ask – in the interview – whether the individual believes they can do this.

Of course everyone says yes, they can do it, no problem (even the people who have to stop and catch their breath after walking up 8 stairs to the interview room).

The job is offered. Then comes the physical and the medical history – the tendinitis, back surgery, carpal tunnel, asthma, uncontrolled high blood pressure, four months pregnant, etc.

Can we decline to hire them? No.

Can we pay their medical bills, work comp claims, and disability benefits after a few months? Sure.

I’m not saying that only vigorously healthy people should have jobs – but why would someone deliberately want to work in an environment that they know they can’t physically handle?

Why would someone with carpal tunnel want to use an air gun 20,000 times a day? If you put on your back brace along with your shorts, why take a job where you’re going to have to lift 50 pounds all day long?

And why do we have to hire them?

Our lawyers are such chickenshits.

Once upon a time an employment application I filled out had all sorts of illegal questions.

I asked the interviewer Out of curiosity, what does my height have to do with anything? (This was office work.)

Her reply: Oh, that’s an outdated form. We’re just using them up

I said, Well, I’ll just skip all the illegal ones

I didn’t get the job, but didn’t protest because by the time the interview was over, I decided I didn’t want to work there anyway.