illegal Interview Questions – What Not to ask in a Job Interview

It is perfectly understandable that companies want to use a job interview to find out as much as they can about the applicant. Interviews give the chance to find out whether or not jobseekers have the skills and qualities that the job needs. However, there are some interview questions that should not be asked. Whilst asking a question in itself is not illegal, asking the wrong types of question can put employers on the wrong side of workplace discrimination law.

woman conducting a job interview

Job interview questions tend to stick to a fairly uniform pattern. However, sometimes you might be thrown the odd tricky question. However, HR professionals need to be very careful about asking some questions. This is because they can break Discrimination Laws.

Most jobseekers would be able to recognise a discriminatory question. But there are often ‘grey’ areas and questions within a job interview that may seem harmless, yet are, in fact, discriminatory and, therefore, illegal.

What Questions Should not be asked in an Interview?

There are questions about several areas that might leave an employer open to a claim of discrimination during the job interview process. Some might seem relatively harmless, but they must be avoided.

Interviewers should not ask…

Questions About Place of Birth, Ethnicity and Religion

Employers are legally entitled to ask at a job interview if you have the correct paperwork to legally work in the UK. They can also ask you to provide evidence of this.

They’’re not entitled to probe into your personal history surrounding your specific place of birth. For example, say you had a unusual surname.– It would be improper of employers to look at your CV and see the surnames such as Ali, Khan, Kowalski or Hoffmann, and to ask in which country you were born. This could be seen as a company hiring (or not hiring) staff on the grounds of nationality, race or ethnic background.

It is legal for ethnic background to be asked for on an application form. The reason for this is strictly for monitoring purposes, and is usually included separately from the main application form. However, this cannot be brought up in relation to job interview questions.

Additionally, an interviewer should never ask any job applicant about their religion or religious background.

Questions About Marital Status, Children and Sexuality

Interviewers should not ask a person’s marital status, about children they may have, or their sexuality. All could be grounds for discrimination.

For example, because companies might be seen to view a person being married favourably because they view a married applicant as being more stable. They might also view them unfavourably as they may feel a single person would have more time to devote to the job.

Similarly, questions about children should be avoided. It also should go without saying that any questions about a person’s sexuality are absolutely off limits.

Questions About Age

With new Age Discrimination laws having been introduced which affect all jobs, you should not be asking any questions about age in a job interview.

The exception would be establishing that a person meets the required minimum age to do the job,A prime example of what not to say to an applicant would be to ask of, say, a 60-year old, “And how many more years do you see yourself in the workforce?” That would be discriminatory.

Questions About Disability and Illness

As a general interview guide, interviewers need to tread carefully when asking about illnesses and long term disabilities.

Asking you to explain a significant amount of time off sick from any previous jobs would be perfectly fine. However, questioning a person over a disability and probing whether or not that would affect their ability to do the job? That’s a big no, and would be grounds for Disability Discrimination.

Questions About Lifestyle Choices

It’s also illegal at interviews for employers to ask jobseekers questions relating to lifestyle choices. For example, about their consumption of alcohol, whether they smoke or use recreational drugs.

A company can set out rules regarding the use of these kinds of substances. They may state what it is and is not permitted at work within the staff handbook. However, what an employee does outside of work and work time is not the company’’s business. Therefore, no questions can be asked about it at interview.

Questions About Criminal Records

Interviewers can’t ask anything related to any arrests or convictions. For certain jobs, they are entitled to run a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) criminal background check on you prior to interview.

However, any findings from criminal record checks should never form part of their interview techniques.

Questions About Memberships

Questions about membership or affiliations with any organisations should also not be asked at interviews. The exception is if they are related to any problem they might foresee about time commitments. If these would prevent you doing the job, they may be seen as relevant.

Querstions About Height & Weight

Questions about height and weight are also discriminatory. The exception is if the job is exempt in terms of it being acceptable to have a certain minimum height requirement.

Have problems with job interview questions you’ve been subject to, and have reason to believe you have been unfairly treated at interview? You should seek advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. They can help to determine whether or not a company’s job interview techniques have been unlawful.

42 thoughts on “illegal Interview Questions – What Not to ask in a Job Interview

  1. FJ says:

    What should I answer when asked in a job interview where I am from? I don’t know if it it’s illegal to ask this in the country I currently live but I think this is very personal but i don’t wanna sound rude by telling them I don’t wanna answer because it is personal. How do you suggest me answer this question in a polite way? Thanks in advance

  2. Greg says:

    I’m a switchboard Supervisor in the NHS. I work varied shifts, mainly evening, and some weekends but these have always been based on a set four week rota. I get the impression that they now want to give us a rota for the following month that can change every month. This will have a significant affect on my ability to plan events in my personal life, if I never know when I am going to be working. Can anyone give me some advice on this?

  3. SuzueQ says:

    I was interviewed for a bookeeper position within a property management company last week. The accounts manager and her colleague were lovely The business manager however was very intrusive with his questions. How old are you How old is your child What are your childcare arrangements and will it interfere with the job What school does your child go to Where in the town were you raised and what schools did you go to How have you supported yourself finacially since relocating here (just moved back to my home town near my mum after being elsewhere for 18 years) So your mum was raised here then? What benefits will you be entitled to if you take/we offer you the position? The position was advertised for 26 hours but i was asked how many hours i would need to work to be entitled to benefits such as housing benefit. And these are just a few that i can actually remember off the top of my head As far as im aware they havnt filled the position yet. I honestly came away from the interview wanting to cry. Im AAT level 2 qualified along with other qualifications and fully capable of the position. Am i correct in thinking that most of these questions are not allowed to be asked?

  4. Vix says:

    I have worked in my current job for 3 years. About 5 months ago, I asked one if the directors if I could change my hours to finish half an hour early, everyday (and cutting my lunch break to accommodate) to help with care for my elderly mother in law who has dementia. He agreed to this. Now the other director has questioned it and says it’s not good for business and needs office cover. Can he demand I change back? Also, they assumed I would be a key holder but I don’t want that responsibility after 2 break ins – can they insist I’m a key Holder?

  5. Dio13 says:

    I was interviewed by a company in the construction business for a role as an information project manager. All the interviews were brilliant and according to the company’s recruiter,. I had very good chances of getting the job. For the final interview, I was asked to complete a task: Put together a full presentation on what will be my strategy for information management in the next 6 months, how would I do it applying my experience and what are the issues I had identified in my future employer’s approach. Obviously this work was no simple task given the scope of the role, it took me two days of analysis. The final interview came and I met with the program manager, whose first question was “where are you from?” Then I explained I am an EU national, living in the UK for about 2 years for family reasons (my wife’s company relocated her to the UK). After the presentation the said they were impressed my knowledge and the strategy I presented was superb. After 2 days, they sent me a rejection letter without any feedback. It was only after I requested an explanation of their decision that they claimed “I should have done more research on the company, and they didn’t feel I have enough experience dealing with customer services” when I had overwhelming evidence of the opposite, a very good track record in the UK working for other organisations and outstanding references. a week later I saw in Linkedin they hired someone who was not born in Britain, but does have a British passport, with much less experience, and I know for a fact, they built a plan based on the strategy I outlined. I find it utterly disgusting and I would like to know if I have a basis for a legal case against the said organisation.

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Beth – Ours was written back in 2008 by the author named above so we do hope it’s us that were first! All the authors we use, sign a declaration to say that their work is original and we also use ‘copyscape’ software to check for duplications elsewhere on the Internet. Well spotted though!

  6. Beth says:

    Love how the paragraph on questions about place of birth starts exactly word for word the same as a similar article on Monster… wonder who copied who…

  7. rabbit says:

    I currently work Monday – Friday but my shift has changed to Tuesday – Saturday without any notice from my employee. Should I not have had a relevant period of notice for this?

  8. Blu says:

    I work for an organisation. I am developing a personal relationship with someone at work and we are seeking accommodation together. Other colleagues have made a complaint in relation to conflict of interest. One staff member has been servaling us writing down times we have been occupying the same house outside of work time. I am a supervisor but do not supervise the person I am dating. My managers are asking personal questions such as… Are we in a relationship? How long have we been dating? How many bedrooms our accommodation has and our sleeping arrangements. A staff member thinks they saw us kissing in a bar and has reported this. We have been questioned about this too. The company says that the relationship causes problems with the integrity of the company. I have been questioned about an age gap between myself and my partner. They have explained that they are really disappointed in me and I will be disciplined under loss of trust and confidence. My partner is being threatened with losing their job and disciplinery meetings are being arranged. Does this infringe on section 8 of the human rights act? Do I have an obligation to discuss my relationship with my managers. We show no affection to each other at work and our paths rarely cross. I have offered to demote myself or work in a different department. They are suggesting that we lied about having a relationship and trying to catch us out by suggesting we were in a relationship for longer than we have been. Please help. I am so stressed, and depressed about this I am shaking. I feel totally violated that my life outside of work is being questioned. We have both been told that we are very good at out jobs.

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Blu – There is nothing in employment law that specifically mentions workplace relationships/romance but many employers do have their own policies on this; these should be listed in the employee handbook.

  9. Fkg says:

    I went to an interview and asked the following questions stupidly I answered then later on realised I don’t think I should of as not legal. I got asked if I was single, where I was born, what my parents do for a living. Where I live who with…

  10. mgd says:

    I have just received a phone call from an employer asking me about my age and nationality; when I said I am from a country in the EU area, the person kept on insisting for me to have to say what my nationality is because the person has though I had a different passport within the EU because I speak many languages. I opted for not to disclose my nationality although the person knew I did not need a work permit because I am from a country in the EU and as a consequence decided to stop the conversation arguing that our communication “wasn’t good”. I wonder if this person had the legal right to make only personal questions and not to ask anything about my cv. From my opinion this is not very professional as the person did not ask about my work experiences but concentrated on personal details instead what does not define me as a person as neither my character because I lived abroad for many years and my personality has nothing to do with my passport. I consider this is a clear case of discrimination and I would like to know if there is anything I can do in case this happens again as I don’t think I have the obligation to respond to those questions.

  11. Anne says:

    Hi. I recently applied for a vacancy. They got back to me asking for a recent photo of myself. Is this legal? The job is within the beauty industry, but on the business side of things.

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Anne – Usually a photo will be required if the job involves modelling or there’s a specific requirement for a type of person (an actor in a play for example) – but otherwise, no you shouldn’t be asked for a photo.

  12. G101 says:

    During an interview with the CEO of the company I was asked about my religion and if my religion would affect my role within the company? I was surprised by this and said no. I later found out I did not get the position, but my qualifications were equal to the person employed but was told the person hired was a better fit to the company. I’m wondering if that question had an affect on my chance for the position?

    • Safe Workers says:

      @G101 – If it was phrased as you describe, then this is the type of question that an interviewer really should not be asking as it could be discriminatory. If you wanted to take this further you would need firstly to see whether the employer (via the HR department) has any procedures that you can follow to make a complaint. If not, you can then consider taking a claim to an employment tribunal or civil court, but before doing so, you should use the Acas free early conciliation service which may negate the need to make a claim.

  13. Liz says:

    I recently applied for a job through an agency. I received a call frm the agency saying the employet was interested by my cv. But wanted to know the ages of all prospective interviewees from the agency prior to.any further action. The agency then called me and requested my age to pass to the prospective employer. Is rhis within uk law

  14. Ruby says:

    I attended an interview on Friday 12th February. This was with a small Mortgage Brokers, I was interviewed by the a lady the director of the business, I am really concerned about this company as I was asked the following questions. How old I was Did I smoke Was I married Did I have Children ( I do but adult children) Did I have to supervise small children I am really upset by this, I am currently unemployed and actively seeking work, I called my work coach after the interview at the job centre. Is there anything I can do, about this?

  15. Murmur says:

    I recently applied for a job and felt I provided a very strong application form, with clear and detailed examples throughout. I believe I have met all the essential and desirable criteria, basically all the boxes were ticked and I felt I should be invited for an interview. I then got an email to say the job is being re-advertised and that I need not reapply as they are holding my application on file. There have been no changes made to the application for or job description in the re-advertisement. So obviously I am very disappointed and disheartened. My question is, are employers allowed re-advertise a post without even interviewing applicants? Yes I understand that if someone is clearly not suitable for the job then they should be turned down straight away however I have not officially been turned down and I believe I have extensive experience and am qualified for the position. Thank you for providing me this space to vent!

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Murmur – It may be that they have had to re-advertise the post for other reasons- such as they did not get through all the applicants within their own time scales etc. If you want to ask them for feedback on your application form, why not give it a try?

  16. Bod says:

    I worked for 5 years at a food production company but had to be released due to long term sickness due to a spinal injury. I was informed then that once i had had my operation and recovered i could apply for any vacancy if any came up. Its been 2 years since then and i am fit and healthy again. I recently heard that there was a vacancy (my old position) so i contacted my former head of department to ask about applying. She asked if we could meet for a coffee and a chat which we did and seemed keen to have me back , about 2 weeks later she contacted me for an interview (informal) just myself and her which went well. Approx 2 weeks later i was called in for a 2nd interview with herself and senior manager. At the interview i was asked by the senior manager how my back was , to which i replied all fit and healthy , the senior manager then asked how long ago was my operation which i replied “two and a half years”. He then told me about a family member or friend of his who had the same operation and 3 years later they are in a wheel chair. I replied that im good and have no aches or pains in my back to which he replied , if he decided to take me back i would have to sign an agreement that states that any time off due to any condition with my back i would not recieve company sick pay for 3 years. I replied i would agree to this if i was re-employed as i really wanted this job. At the end of the interview which if i recall was around about the 16th Dec 2015 (closing date for applications 15 Dec 2015)i was told that i would have reply at the beginning of 2016. I have not heard from the company since and the vacancy has reappeared in the papers and on line with a new closing date of the 5 Feb 2016 . I was a good worker and got on well with all my co workers . Is this legal ?

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Bod – Yes this sounds as though it is legal. You do have the chance to re-apply for the re-advertised post as they discussed. Regarding the sick pay agreement you were asked to sign – company sick pay is given at the employer’s discretion but you would still be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay.

  17. usedoorBell says:

    I am waiting to commence employment. They have not given date, but recruitment agency have warned me that it could be less than a days notice! Ie, called on Wednesday for a Thursday am start, I am eligible for paid transport for the 1st month and If I have too short notice I would not have time to claim it. TBH most days I probably could do it, but I would rather have time to prepare. I am sure it is 36 hours, or maybe 48. I cannot find legislation on it. PS employment agency messed up another start date with this company 7 months ago. I know now to accept anything!!! This has cost me £££££££xK and more…

  18. nat85 says:

    I went for my dream job I had a telephone interview and she asked me how old I was. On the phone I said I did have some holidays booked and said I was getting married so I would definitely need the time off she said this was fine. When I went for the interview I was asked if getting married would take me away from studying as it was a trainee vet nurse position I said it would not as I have planned most of it. She also asked if having a relationship would hinder my ability to be dedicated to the job I said it would not. Then as I would have to be on call she even asked who would look after my cats if I was needed at work. I feel I was unfairly treated as this had nothing to do with my ability as I am well over qualified to do this job. She was even snotty with me about me having a degree and reminded me that she has 20 years experience. I was told I did not get the job but it has been readvertised can I do anything about this?

  19. gondorian says:

    I have been asked in every job interview over the past six months whether I was married or had children. One interviewer was very blatant and said that as this is was a partly home-based position I might not cope if I had young children. One interviewer, for a recruitment agency no less, asked me what my partner did for a living, if I owned my home or was renting, how many children I had, how old I was, when I graduated university. Any advice about how to make a complaint would be greatly appreciated. It is quite obvious to me that companies are flagrantly breaking discrimination laws because the burden of proof is on the complainant.

    • Safe Workers says:

      @gondorian – This does sound like blatant discrimination. It’s clear to employers what they can and cannot ask about. You can send a “discrimination questionnaire” to any employer – they are not obliged to answer but the fact that they do not, can then be used if you decide to take further action. The discrimination questionnaire is a useful tool that is not well used…you can find more information on the internet if you choose to devise a questionnaire. The best option in the first place would be to call the Employment Advisory Helpline for support/advice.

  20. eri says:

    I was injured at work. I did not recieve any form if training what so ever. I was a delivery driver. When my employer employed me he did not ask for any form of documentation but now that I have filled an injury claim he is calling me everyday asking me to send him my documentation. Should I send him the documents. I have aready left the job i.e. he has not paid me my last pay

    • Safe Workers says:

      @eri – You should be paid for the work you’ve done and any SSP that you are owed. What kind of documentation are you referring to? To verify your sick/medical issues or driver’s documents?

  21. Hidecote says:

    Been off sick leave 7 days and confirmed with manager thursday i would be back Saturday for early shift. Heard nothing more so opened shop and checked rota to see who else was on. I saw my shift had been changed to 0745 till 2145 I was due to finish at 1530. Plus I had been put in to work today. Does this sound fair. I said I couldn’t do extra as I had not enough notice. Had someone let me know Thursday I could have sorted things. I am know, now scared that I will be disciplined. I always pitch in and really hurt no one thought to call. Was I wrong to refuse. Thanks

  22. Porchya_ashworth123 says:

    My story is I went for a job interview today I am a 18 year old girl looking for a Apprentice in office work. I got there all ready for my job interview and I got there and the man was asking me personal questions like do I drink? How much do I drink? What do I talk to my friends about? Where do I go when im out? Do I have a boyfriend? Why am I not living with him. Then at the end of the interview he told me it was a tele-sales job and I wasnt happy as that was not what I applied for and not what was on the job description.

  23. azralph says:

    Can anyone help. I work as a Teaching Assistant and I recently applied for an internal vacancies within the school. I have also been applying for other jobs, and was offered another job in a school very close by working mornings. However I was told a few days ago that they would not be offering me a job next year as they would have concerns about me sharing my time between two schools ( this is even though the roles I applied for here were just in the afternoon ) Is this even legal? I thought you were not allowed to mention other commitments in this way?

  24. marc says:

    Hi, I recently had an interview and my fares were paid for as they wanted to see me the next day. I have all the qualities and experience for the role but at the interview none of the questions were asked about the role, my experience or asked to give examples. I did speak to a manager in the same role as me . He asked me questions and so on about my experience and told me about the role and I asked questions about the job and things I thought were important about team work, sales, staffing, companies history, the CEO, waste, KPIs , stock levels and gap scanning, moving to the area and so on. Then taken to another room as I was taken there before but another interview was being held and was just taken in with the person sitting there in there interview. I was asked tell them about myself, what I know about the company and why I want to work for them, so I did. They did not ask me about my past experience or about sales, staffing, merchandising, waste, recruitment and so on. I was asked 3 times if im married or single by 3 different people. I was asked to do a swot analysis and given 20 minutes which was not much time as you normally do that before the interview and talk over your findings. After I done the swot I gave my findings as in, merchandising, ways to increase sales, waste, gaps on shelves, about the location and store standards. I was not asked any questions about it or my findings so I could explain how to improve sales , staffing, store standards and so on. They just said any questions you want to ask ? I asked a few, then they said ok we will be speaking to you soon and they need to catch there plane. when I spoke to the recruitment agency for some feed back they had received an email from HR at the company saying, I had knowledge of the company and customer service but did not speak about sales, staffing, the store, moving there, I was very nervous more than you would think, kept on repeating myself, which is not true. I spoke about these with the first manager as i was put in a room with him and was asking me questions. They did not ask anything about me or my experience or to give examples. I was not nervous. I got off the plane , taxi to the airport, in the store and interview. The HR manager was eating her lunch while interviewing me the operations manager did not ask about sales, costs, staffing ,KPIs , profit and loss which they normally do. The interview was held in the staff room not office so people were in and out.Im shocked that the HR manager said what she said in the email to the recruitment company as i had spoke about the things in the email that she said i had not, i told the first manager in the first part, also they never asked me or about my swot analysis. The email sent to me before i went said they will run through a breakdown of the store ,which they did not, also for me to take down the number of the taxi in case they cant drop me off at my hotel because of there flight. I have sent a reply to the recruitmen

  25. JonS says:

    Hello, I have been on sick leave for a month and a half in 2014 and 2 weeks in 2015 (increasing) The main reason was stress due to bullying and attempts to make me resign by my line manager. HR is doing its best to support my line manager in all this. Although I am not in UK at the moment, my employer has an office in UK and I will be heading back there for good before the end of the year. A recruiter could ask me about sick leave and could even have some data provided by my current employer at one point of the recruitment process. How can I handle this? I would prefer not to lie nor to give away too much info on a controversial situation (court is being involved in the case). Please advise…

    • Safe Workers says:

      @JonS – The most sensible option is to tell the truth. Keep it simple and try to keep it balanced. i.e don’t come across as bitter or too critical of your ex employer, but do not allow yourself to be seen as “unable to cope other strong personalities”

  26. Tony says:

    Hello I am a French national working in Paris. I’m hoping to move to the UK and thus am looking for employment in London and its surrounding areas. The question I’m mostly frequently faced with by interviewers is what my current salary in France is. now I know that in the US this is a question that employers should NOT ask. Remuneration should not be based on current salaries but rather on the job profile, candidate’s experience, company budget etc. I would like to know whether in the UK this question is commonly asked. Are we expected to answer and if demanded provide a payslip? Thanks Tony

  27. Jackie says:

    Due to financial difficulties to pay for my daughter’s summer camp, I proposed to my employer to change my working schedule, which was denied. I proposed that for this summer I would like to work 4 consecutive days instead of 5 consecutive days during the week. Is there any other way or any law that can allow me to change my current work schedule? Please let me know.

  28. ninni says:

    My employer wants to change my shift times from 4.45am start to 6.30 am… I have work for the same company for 15 years, when I first started my start time was 6.00 am till 8.00 am then after 7 years I asked to change it to 4.45 am as my life circumstances changed.. I have been working 4.45 am till 7.45 am for the last 8 years now….. I don’t remember ever signing a work contract, I was taken on in a verbal contract.. Can my employer change my hours??? If they do I will have to hand in my notice as it is not possible for me to do…. What are my rights? Please help….

  29. LucieLee says:

    Age discrimination laws are ignored by each company in this country. A copy of your passport is always required at application and interview stages, when you are from the European Union. The first thing employers check is your date of birth/ place of birth. I am also concerned about identity fraud, the number of time I have given a copy of my passport to complete strangers while looking for work, it is irrelevant. This should not be permitted. Not to forget all the recruitment agencies filling and using your personal information and references for prospect purposes without your consent, asking you paperwork and bank details without even offering you a job or arranging an interview with their clients. This is becoming really nasty being unemployed even for a short period. Recently, I even had a recruiter laughing when he saw I was living in Morden from my cv, making jokes with her colleague I quote : ‘You wouldn’t know where it is, it is South London, it’s really too far away from the office !’ (with the mocking tone, understand : Morden is too dodgy for our corporate posh city office and lifestyle ) Their rejection feedback : We felt that you would’nt fit well within the existing team members because your personality is not outgoing enough ( understand : ‘you are too old to get along with fellows in their early 20s living in privileged areas of central London’)

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