Illegal Job Interview Questions And What To Do If You’re Asked One

You don’t need to have been to a million job interviews to know that they’re hard. Trying to conjure up past work experiences that are relevant to seemingly arbitrary questions, all the while brainstorming how your worst qualities will actually be useful in the role is enough to make your hair turn white. Throw in keeping an ear out for illegal job interview questions only makes these bad dreams even more nightmarish.

That’s right, some interview questions are illegal – thanks to stringent anti-discrimination laws, interviewers need to tread carefully and avoid a whole host of subjects that could lead to possible prejudice. And, unlike regular job interview questions, it’s probably better you don’t answer them.

Yes, there are illegal job interview questions

There’s a number of categories that prospective employers aren’t allowed to seek information about. These illegal questions mainly relate to whether you have children, your sexual orientation, religion, age, marital status and health. Mathew Paine, Managing Director of HR Expert – an online portal with a whole array of info relating to employment – says that these questions might include, ’Are you married?’, ‘When are you planning to have children?’, ‘How old are your children?’ and ‘When were you born?’. Others he mentions are, ‘What religion are you?’, ‘Are you gay?’, ‘Are you comfortable working for a female boss?’ and ‘How long do you plan to work until you retire?’.

However, some interviewers can be sneaky – asking your marital status is illegal, but if they’re particularly shifty they might make their line of questioning less obvious by asking how long you’ve been married. While these enquiries might not seem immediately off-colour or wrong, this is information that might be used against you. Always keep in mind that job interviews should be focusing upon your skills and experience, not your personal life. Anything that veers away from this should be questioned.

To be clear: you don’t have to answer these questions, and for a potential employer to ask you these, and not hire you based on your silence or answers is illegal.

“Employers should not seek unnecessary and potentially discriminatory information from applicants when they develop selection criteria or prepare interview questions,” says Paine. “It could be discrimination if employers do so and then rely on this information in deciding not to offer a candidate a job.”

He says that any question relating to national origin, citizenship, age, marital status, disabilities, sexual orientation, arrest and conviction record, race, gender, or pregnancy status, could be violating various state and federal discrimination laws. However, he tempers that by saying, “if the employer states questions so that they directly relate to specific occupational qualifications, then the questions may be legitimate.”

The Australian Human Rights Commission gives a few examples of situations where it might be legal to ask illegal job interview questions. For example, an employer may ask for information about a candidate’s disability to assess whether they will be able to perform the inherent tasks of the role, as well as if there would be any health and safety risks. They might also ask a pregnant candidate about their pregnancy to decide if the job would pose a risk to them or the unborn child.

Paine recommends examining the intent behind the question before jumping to conclusions. If you’re being interviewed directly by a HR professional or hiring manager, they are specifically trained not to ask these questions. If they’re doing so could indicate something fishy.

What should I do if I am asked these questions?

First up, make it clear that you refuse to answer queries such as this. You are under no obligation to respond. Remember the person asking these questions is in the wrong, not you.

“If you are asked a question that you feel is illegal during an interview, you should focus your answers on the behaviours, skills, and experience needed to perform the job,” says Paine. “If you find your discussion straying off course, try and refocus the interview around what you feel is relevant.”

“If you are asked a question that you feel is illegal during an interview, you should focus your answers on the behaviours, skills, and experience needed to perform the job.”

Paine also advises interviewees not to lie when answering these questions. Rather, “politely decline to answer”. If they keep on pushing, Paine says that you should perhaps be questioning the culture of the company, and the ethics of the hiring manager.

“Do you really want to work in a company that is already showing signs of discrimination from the start? Probably no.”

If these illegal job interview questions are asked, and you feel that you haven’t been offered a position for personal reasons, you can take legal action – though your best bet might be to vote with your feet and withdraw your application.


Of course, before taking any extreme measures, it’s always best to get in touch with an industrial relations expert or workplace attorney if you need to take the matter further.

Che-Marie is a London-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Australian Gourmet Traveller, Collective Hub and Virgin Australia Voyeur among others. Follow her travels on Instagram @chemariet.