There are several things you can’t ask an interviewee. They’re illegal and can get you sued or worse. 

Then there are a number of things you simply shouldn’t ask the interviewee. They fall into a gray area that you should just stay out of.

Things you can’t ask

You shouldn’t ask someone about specifics about their lives. 

  • Race 
  • Ethnicity
  • Country of origin
  • Age
  • Color
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Sex
  • Country of origin
  • Birthplace
  • Religion
  • Marital status
  • Family status
  • Disability

It’s important to note that if the applicant mentions any of these things, you don’t have to shut them down, but you can’t allow anything you learn accidentally to affect your hiring decisions. 

Many of these things are the type of questions everyone asks in polite conversation. “Are you married?” “Do you have kids?” “I love your accent. Where are you from?”

The key to avoiding issues is to have a list of questions written out. When the interviews are over, you should keep the list of questions as proof of what you asked about. 

Ask everyone the same questions. This is important. If you’re seen asking different questions of different people, you can be accused of showing bias. 

If someone has a disability that they need to discuss with you for accommodation, you should record it, but you can’t ask someone if they have any health issues. Even the simple question, “How’s your health?” can cause you problems. It sounds like an elimination question, as in “If you have health issues that will raise our insurance rates, I won’t hire you.”

The gray areas that can cause you issues and might land you in hot water. 

Have you ever been arrested? – Asking this can be seen as seeking to eliminate anyone who has ever been in trouble for any reason. If the job requires bonding or insurance that might not be available if they have a criminal record, it can be appropriate to ask, but most jobs won’t be affected by an arrest or even conviction.

Do you have a bank account? – Federal credit acts preclude this question under some circumstances. It’s not worth asking unless it somehow affects their ability to do their job well. If they want to cash their paycheck at Walmart, that’s on them. For direct deposit, offer the forms or tell them about the online application, but don’t ask for their information explicitly.

Make it easy. It’s simple: If a question can be used to exclude someone based on something they might not be able to control, like race or religion, you can’t ask it. Stick to questions that are relevant to the performance of the job, and you should be fine.

It’s all about giving everyone a fair opportunity to make a great living. Keep that in mind and you’ll be the type of interviewer who makes it easy for everyone to interview with.