15 Questions You Can’t Ask Employees

15 Questions You Can't Ask Employees

While the process of advertising a new job listing for your business, filtering resumes and holding interviews, hiring your new employee, and signing the employment contract is arduous, it’s worth it to find the right candidate.

Actually figuring out whether someone is a good fit with your company and its needs is more difficult still. You need to ask the right questions to learn enough about them to decide if they are qualified, but you also have to be wary of the wrong questions.

Asking your potential or existing employees questions that are considered illegal can cause you a lot of problems. Not only will you face possible legal action, but you may risk losing future candidates who will avoid working for your business because of your reputation.

Here are some of the questions that you need to watch out for, whether you are conducting an interview or speaking to one of your current employees.

1)      When did you graduate?

Since you aren’t allowed to ask any questions that could reveal the age of the employee, you cannot ask when someone graduated from high school or university.

Instead, ask about their job experience and how it pertains to the opportunity in question.

2)      Is this your married name?

You can’t ask any questions about the individual’s marital status. That means if they are married, what their married name is, or even their title (Mrs., Miss, Ms., Mr.).

You also can’t ask about a person’s spouse, even if they tell you that they have one. Refrain from asking what a person’s spouse does, how much they make, or any other questions surrounding the employee’s, or their partner’s, relationship.

You can ask if someone has previously worked for the company under a different name.

3)      Do you participate in any groups outside of work?

This question could encourage someone to talk about their religious or political beliefs, which is not something that you, as an employer, are allowed to know.

Since many people want to ask this question to make sure that an employee won’t miss time at work to attend certain events, ask if they can meet the schedule requirements without trouble.

4)      Do you have any kids?

Questions about existing children, future children, and anything related to pregnancy need to be avoided. You can’t ask if someone would return to work after maternity leave, or if someone plans to have children.

Although this is obviously an issue that is more directed at women, it’s still important to remember not to ask about paternity leave or children when speaking with a male either.

5)      How tall are you, about 6’5?

It doesn’t matter if it’s conversational or during an interview, avoid questions that reveal someone’s weight or height. All you need to know is if they believe that they could perform the required tasks efficiently.

Give them a detailed overview of the requirements and ask them if they think that they can meet them.

As some jobs require that an employee is able to lift a certain weight, such as 20lbs, it is appropriate for you to ask if they are able to do so.

6)      Do you smoke or drink?

The only thing that you can ask is if an employee has ever been reprimanded for violating any tobacco of alcohol use rules while on the job.

You can’t ask if they take drugs, but you can ask if they take illegal drugs.

This is because it is not necessary for you to know about personal prescriptions.

7)      What an interesting accent! Where are you from?

This one is not allowed because you can’t ask any questions in relation to an employee’s race. You also can’t ask where their parents are from or even where they learned a second language, unless bilingualism is required for the job.

Avoid asking about the origin of their name too, as that could explain where they are from.

8)      Where did you drive in from?

Since you may prefer someone who lives close to work, you might want to ask about where a candidate or employee lives, but you can’t ask about the length of their commute.

Instead, just ask if they can be available during the required hours.

9)      How’s your credit score?

Avoid questions about credit scores, bankruptcy, and other personal finances.

You can require credit checks as part of an application process, but this is generally a one-time event that takes place after the interview. The employee must give consent.

10)   Have you ever been arrested?

Anyone can be mistakenly arrested. You can’t ask about arrests because being arrested doesn’t mean that someone was involved in a crime.

You can ask if someone has been convicted, but you have to be specific about what they were convicted of (fraud, theft, etc.).

11)   Do you live with your spouse?

Questions about an employee’s living situation are prohibited. On emergency contact forms you are not allowed to put “closest relative to contact in case of emergency”, as you must avoid using the word “relative”.

Since each person’s personal living situation is different, use general terms and don’t make assumptions about someone’s family life.

12)   What are you going to the doctor for?

As an employer, you are not allowed to ask about an individual’s past or present personal health, including operations, hospital visits, doctor’s appointments, etc.

You also need to avoid any questions about mental health, disabilities, and anything else related to the personal mental and physical status of the employee.

Don’t ask about sick days, either. It’s inappropriate for you to ask how many sick days a person took at their last job, along with why.

You can, however, ask how many days they missed from work last year.

13)   Could a man do this job? We’ve always had a woman.

Questions about gender are prohibited. This includes the individual’s gender, asking if they can work with or supervise the opposite gender, and if a certain gender could perform the tasks required for the job as efficiently as another.

14)   Were you dishonorably discharged from the military?

You also have to avoid questions about an individual’s current enrollment in either the National Guard or the Reserves.

15)   Can I get your Facebook password?

This was an issue that became heated in 2012 but has since cooled. Many states disallow potential or current employers from requesting personal social media logins from interviewees and employees.

Asking the Wrong Questions

At times, some of the questions that are prohibited are allowed. If you can prove that a question directly relates to the job and that the answer would affect the person’s ability to perform the tasks, you may be allowed to ask certain questions.

An example would be if you were a seniors clothing business recruiting senior models. Because your business specifically requires senior models to sell your product, it would not be considered ageism. If it were a women’s store, you could request females models, and if it were a men’s store, you could request male models.

When you ask an employee an inappropriate question they are not required to answer it. They may feel obligated to and answer it anyway, but you cannot let their answer effect how you treat them as a person or as an employee.

If you do ask an inappropriate question, and an employee feels as if their rights have been violated, you could face a discrimination charge as well as a lawsuit. Aside from the legal repercussions, you also face having a negative reputation. Today, with information so easily accessible through the internet, news spreads fast, and even a local business can be internationally showcased in a negative light from bad behavior.

In Conclusion

Be aware of your state’s laws surrounding employment discrimination. Avoid personal questions and focus on ones that pertain to the job.

Treating your employees fairly and asking the questions that relate to job experience, education, skills, and other relevant areas will help you to find a good employee without getting you into trouble. Be respectful, thoughtful, and remember that although the employee may need the job, you need them as well.

Did any of these questions surprise you? Which ones? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Follow Us!

Brittany Foster

Marketing Writer at LawDepot
Brittany is an ardent reader, writer, and blogger.
Follow Us!

23 thoughts on “15 Questions You Can’t Ask Employees

  1. Olive Coin Witherspoon Page

    The Facebook password. That absolutely floored me.
    I will likely do research on how when and why that was ever a thought of being appropriate. Thanks for the article.

  2. LawDepot Team

    Hi Olive, thanks for your comment! Surprisingly, some employers still include it as part of their qualification process, although many allow it to be optional for the applicant. Best of luck in your research and we’re happy to hear that you enjoyed the post!

  3. Pingback: 7 Costly Recruiting Mistakes - LawDepot Blog

  4. Brittany Foster Post author

    Hi Jerry,

    One source is Payscale’s article, http://www.payscale.com/career-news/2014/02/illegal-job-interview-questions-what-cant-they-ask-me, which says “The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects people over the age of 40, and who work in companies with more than 20 employees, from employment discrimination. Employers may specify an age limit for a position only in rare cases where it can be proven that age is a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ). In all other cases, an interviewer may not ask questions from which your age may easily be determined. Individuals under age 40 aren’t covered by the ADEA, but many states do offer protection.”

    If you are looking for more information, you could look into the ADEA itself: https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/discrimination/agedisc.

  5. April

    I recently had to go to the hospital and missed a few days of work. My employer asked me what medications I had been placed in. Is this legal?

  6. Renee

    When applying for a position after graduating college and many years of experience, can an possible employer ask or look into my spouses background. I didn’t think so but have been told different. Ty

  7. Brittany Foster Post author

    Hi Renee, generally, your employer should not ask any questions that do not directly relate to or impact the work that you would be doing as described in the job listing. For more details on what a potential employer can ask about your spouse, please contact the US Department of Labor if you are located in the USA, or your provincial Department of Labour if you are in Canada.

  8. Amelia

    I recently had an interview this pass week. I thought an employer could not ask if you have kids and who you live with. I had the owner ask me if i had kids and who i lived with and how far i lived. I was kind of confused about the questions and why i was being ask them since that was the first thing he ask me even before asking me what my qualifications were. I did not get a call back to work. I think it is because i do live a ways away but not that far too where it would be a promblem. I do have reliable transportation. This is not the first time i have been ask this in an interview. and all of those interviews i did not get the job. I dont have kids i dont know if that is a problem or what.

  9. Brittany Foster Post author

    Hi Amelia, typically, your employer should not ask any questions that do not directly relate to or impact the work that you would be doing as described in the job listing. For more details on what a potential employer can ask about your family or where you live, please contact the US Department of Labor if you are located in the USA, or your provincial Department of Labour if you are in Canada.

  10. Cristina Abdala

    Most appliations I fill out online asked where I went to college and the timeframe and if I got a degree and when, that is pretty standard on all the online apps. Also they ask where I live and how far I drive in that is pretty standard also. I think the questions you list make sense but most employers do not follow a lot of these rules.

  11. Carmel

    I was hired by the Fed Gov to fill a role as a contractor (probably to get around the hiring freeze, however they do this all the time for the first year or two) and now I have to meet with this contracting company to fill out paperwork, including deciding if I want their health insurance or their 401 k contribution. I have asked 3 times for the name of the insurance plan and the most recent answer was, “Please send me a list of all your doctors and I’ll let you know if they are in the plant.” Is this legal?

  12. Brittany Foster Post author

    Hi Carmel, For details on what a potential employer can ask about your medical history or your personal health care providers, please contact the US Department of Labor.

  13. Marie

    I work for a christian retail business and publishing company that sells and prints religious self help books. I have worked here 13 years and am a senior manager. Over the last 13 years my personal religious beliefs have changed and I no longer believe in God. Can I get fired for this if my boss finds out?

  14. Brittany Foster Post author

    Hi Marie,

    It would be best to do some research into the employment discrimination laws specific to your state or province, or you could try talking to a local employment lawyer to see if they could offer some insight. If you are in the US, you could also try to find more information through the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission here: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/religion.cfm.

  15. Kylie

    I recently needed to change my working hours due to personal circumstances, my employer has now asked me to provide her with my spouses working hours so I can work around him is this allowed

  16. LawDepot Team

    Hi Kylie, it would be best for you to contact the US Department of Labor in you are in the US, or your provincial Department of Labour if you are in Canada to determine what you can and can’t be asked by your employer in your situation.

  17. Halley

    We had an employee that no called, no showed yesterday and then sent an email around 9pm last night stating that something had happened in her personal life the previous night. What, if anything, can we ask her about that? She’s had several personal issues lately that we haven’t asked about and have pushed aside, however, it’s beginning to impact her productivity and we cannot run a business this way. Any advice would be great, thank you!

  18. LawDepot Team

    Hi Halley, in order for you to get the best information about what you can and can’t ask an employee in your situation, it would be best for you to contact the US Department of Labour if you are in the United States or your provincial Department of Labour if you are in Canada.

  19. Pingback: 15 Questions You Can't Ask Employees [Infographic] - LawDepot Blog

  20. JP

    Wow. I’d really like to see some statutes quoted that make asking these questions illegal. Not the statutes that make discrimination illegal (unless you can find one that shows when smokers became a protected class, I’d really like to see that one), the ones that say asking these questions in an interview is illegal. Poor policy and ill-advised, certainly, but illegal??

Leave a Reply