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6 Illegal Interview Questions to Avoid

6 Illegal Interview Questions to Avoid

Hamsa Ramesha

ILLEGAL: “How much do you weigh?”
LEGAL: “Are you comfortable with lifting heavy objects?”

While employers may want to make sure you’re physically able to do the job, asking directly about your weight/height and general health is a major HR no-no. Not to mention potentially embarrassing for you! But rephrasing the question to ask about your ability to perform a specific task is fair game.

ILLEGAL: “Do you have any disabilities? Any recent illnesses or operations?”
LEGAL: “Are you able to perform the essential job functions?”

Discriminating against the disabled, whether wheelchair-bound or clinically depressed, is a classic example of illegal hiring practices. But the employer still has a right to make sure you can do the job you’re hired for and rephrasing the question accordingly is within their rights.

ILLEGAL: “Ever been arrested?”
LEGAL: “Ever been convicted of ___?”

A general question about your (criminal) past is off topic, but a more targeted question regarding questionable behavior — as it relates to your job — is okay. For example, if you were applying for a job as a magician, it’s appropriate to ask if you’ve ever been convicted of fraud in your line of work.

It’s not so much what the question is asking, but how the question is asked. Federal and state laws prevent employers from asking interviewees about subjects unrelated to the job. However, if you feel you have been asked a question that’s off-limits, you should seek legal counsel. Before you take serious action, take into consideration the nature of the job, the context of the situation, the interviewer’s intent, and of course, the phrasing of the question. Good luck, and happy interviewing!


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