Questions Employers Should Not Ask

Federal and state laws prohibit prospective employers from asking certain questions that are not related to the job they are hiring for. Questions should be job related and not used to find out personal information.

In a nutshell, employers should not be asking about race, gender, religion, marital status, age, disabilities, ethnic background, country of origin, sexual preferences or age.


Discriminatory question: What is your maiden name? Have you ever had your name changed legally?
Acceptable alternative: Have you ever worked or been educated under a different name?
Beware: This question is allowable only if the information is needed to verify the applicant’s qualifications.

Discriminatory question: Where were you born? Where were your parents born?
Acceptable alternative: Are you able to furnish the documents required by the Immigration Reform and Control Act?

Discriminatory question: How long have you been at your current address? Do you own, rent, or live with relatives?
Acceptable alternative: What is your current address and phone number? Do you have an alternative address and/or phone number where you can be reached?
Beware: Any question regarding a foreign address might be considered discriminatory.

Discriminatory question: What is your native language?
Acceptable alternative: What languages can you read, speak, or write?

Discriminatory question: How old are you?
Acceptable alternative: Are you at least 18 years old?
Beware: You may ask for an applicant’s date of birth and proof of age only after you have hired him/her. The exception is those applicants under the age of 18, from whom you will need a work permit.

Discriminatory question: What religion do you practice? Which religious holidays do you observe? Will your religious beliefs affect your ability to work overtime (or weekends, etc.)?
Acceptable alternative: Working overtime (or weekends, etc.) is required here. Will you be able to meet this requirement?
Beware: There are no acceptable alternatives to questions about an applicant’s religious beliefs or holidays observed.

Discriminatory question: This job requires short notice overtime (or travel, etc.). Will this cause any babysitting problems for you?
Acceptable alternative: This job requires short notice overtime (or travel, etc.). Will you be able to meet this requirement?
Beware: You may not ask any questions about the names, ages, addresses, etc., of the applicant’s children, spouse, or relatives unless he/she has been hired. Even then, however, you may ask only for information relevant to the job, such as information needed for health insurance, etc.

Discriminatory question: Have you ever been arrested?

Acceptable alternative: Have you ever been convicted of, or have you pleaded guilty or no contest to, a felony offense? Please explain.

Beware: This question should be followed by a statement that a felony conviction will not necessarily disqualify the applicant from being hired.

Discriminatory question: Have you ever served in the United States Armed Forces? If so, when, and what type of discharge did you receive?
Acceptable alternative: Do you have military experience in the United States Armed Forces?

Discriminatory question: How many days were you out sick last year?
Acceptable alternative: How many days were you absent from work last year?

Questions To Avoid At All Costs

The following are questions that rarely have acceptable alternatives. Avoid these unless you have a legitimate bona fide occupational qualification for them.

  • Are you married?
  • Are you planning a family?
  • Have you made child care arrangements if you get this job?
  • Do you have any medical problems (disabilities, etc.)?
  • Have you ever been turned down for a job because of physical reasons?
  • Do you have AIDS or any other infectious disease?
  • Are you gay?
  • What is your race?
  • What color is your hair (eyes, skin, etc.)?