7 Interview Questions That Can Get You Sued

Being interviewed for a job can be incredibly nerve-wracking. The person or people in front of you have complete control over where your life is headed as soon as you shake their hands. Because of this, it’s natural to see them as authority figures, and be compelled to answer every question they throw at you. But you don’t need to feel this way. There are safeguards in place that make it not only unethical, but actually illegal for a prospective employer to ask certain questions. If your interviewer asks any of the following questions, consider it a red flag that you don’t want to work for them.

1. How Old Are You?

Asking someone how old they are during a job interview is a clear sign that the interviewer is trying to gauge how many years they can squeeze out of you. While it’s perfectly legal to ask a younger applicant if they are 18 yet so as to know what functions they are legally allowed to undertake within the company, if a person is clearly over 18, this question is a no-no. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act makes it illegal to ask anyone who appears to be over the age of 40 how old they are. Obviously, this question is meant to weed out older applicants who might not be able to put in a full 30 years at the company. This question would certainly be a roadblock to the many adults facing layoffs in the past decade who are looking for new means of making a living. If this question is asked of you, refocus the conversation toward your years of experience. Then call a lawyer after you leave.

2. Are You Married?

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie

This seemingly innocuous question gives away much more information than intended. Your interviewer may even disguise it in the form of casual conversation: “That ring looks brand new, are you recently married?” While it might sound like they’re just being friendly, what they really want to know is if your newlywed status is going to interfere with your dedication to the job. Not only that, but your marital status may also give way to discussing your sexuality. It should come as no surprise that such a conversation is highly intrusive, and has been made illegal by the US Department of Labor. However, though it is illegal for an interviewer to ask about a person’s relationship status, any unprovoked information an interviewee volunteers is fair game for an employer to use when making a decision. Do yourself and everyone else involved a favor and keep your marital status to yourself.

3. What Country Are You From?

Maybe you speak with an accent, or clearly exhibit physical characteristics of a certain demographic. Regardless, your interviewer has no right to ask about your cultural heritage. He can definitely ask if you are legally able to work in the country, but this question should be asked to every applicant, regardless of ethnicity. You also cannot be compelled to discuss whether you primarily speak English or another language at home. Of course, if it would put you at an advantage to notify your prospective employer that you are bilingual (such as in an area populated by those who speak more than one language), feel free to divulge this information. But remember that information you volunteer may be used against you, and it would be impossible to prove the interviewer to be prejudiced if you gave the information of your own free will.

4. What Religion do You Follow?

Religion should never have anything to do with a job interview, ever. But it goes beyond the assumption that an interviewer who would ask about an applicant’s religion is doing so to weed out those who hold certain beliefs. Asking about a person’s religion is also a sneaky way of figuring out their availability. Devout followers of certain religions may be unwavering in their ability to work weekends, nights, or specific holidays, which, of course, may jibe with an employer’s needs. But, as most applicants are likely to say they are available whenever need be (at least initially), interviewers might use this question to determine how truthful their answer actually is. Of course, under the same Civil Rights Act as previously discussed, doing so is completely illegal.

5. Do You Drink Socially?

George Clooney

Even if you do, the answer here is a resounding “No.” But either way, employers can’t ask this question due to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Alcoholism is classified as a disease, and therefore cannot be used as a reason to deny someone employment. Of course, if the job in question holds the safety of the general public in high regard, you might assume this question is a necessity. However, as alcohol is completely legal for those over the age of 21 in the US, it is absolutely no business of your employer if you drink on your time off. Of course, if you show up intoxicated for work, you run the risk of not only losing your job, but also the possibility of legal repercussions as well.

6. Do You or Have You Ever Used Drugs?

Again, this might seem like a question that should be allowed, but under the same act that protects those who suffer from alcoholism, this question is prohibited. Many things come into play with such a broad question: Maybe the applicant smoked pot once when he was 17, and hasn’t touched it in fifteen years. Maybe the interviewer considered caffeine to be a drug. Maybe the applicant recently took a muscle relaxer for back pain that was given to him when he sprained his ankle last year (while technically illegal, can that really be considered “drug use”?). However, employers do have the right to ask: “Are you currently using any illegal drugs?” And they certainly have the right to enforce a pre-employment drug testing policy. Your best bet is to stay off drugs completely, especially if you’re actively looking for a new job.

7. Have You Ever Been Arrested?

Daryl Hannah arrested

Those who have never been involved with the criminal justice system might not see a problem with this question, but those that have, certainly do. A person can be arrested for almost any type of suspicious behavior. But an arrest is only the first step in the judicial process. If you’re released without charges being filed, it’s an admittance by the police that you did nothing wrong and are free to go. It’s when a person is convicted of a crime that it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the deed. So, as far as employers go, they can only ask if a person has been convicted of a crime. Asking about an arrest only serves to discriminate against a person regardless of the outcome of their case.

See Also: How to Answer The Top 10 Interview Questions

When you’re invited into an interview, you view your prospective employer with utmost regard, and most likely assume that they know what they’re doing. But you have to remember that they may have their own agendas, and because of this they have to prove themselves to you as much as you do to them. Even though you want to appear eager to please them in order to earn a position within their company, it’s incredibly important to remember that they don’t hold all the power, and they’re certainly not above the law.

What’s the weirdest question you’ve ever been asked in a job interview? Let us know in the comments section below.

US Department of Labor - Age Discrimination
US Department of Labor - Civil Rights Act of 1964
US Americans with Disabilities Act


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