Can Employers Ask That? Identifying and responding to illegal job interview questions, innocent or otherwise.

Putting your picture, listing your marital status, age, or religious affiliation on your resume is appropriate in other countries. However, this practice makes American Human Resource staff shriek in horror.

The purpose of a job interview is for an employer to determine if a candidate’s skills and abilities are sufficient to perform the job. Personal information unrelated to the required job duties such as your age (if over 40), race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender identity, citizenship status, pregnancy status, marital status, disability status, sexual orientation, and for safe measure, political affiliation, may seem culturally acceptable to some who have recently immigrated to the U.S.; however, for American employers, these topics are off-limits.

To give everyone a fair chance and help keep employers’ personal biases out of the equation, we have a set of laws known as Equal Employment Opportunity laws. EEO laws are federal and state laws that determine which questions are inappropriate during interviews. They were created to ensure employers do not obtain and utilize personal background information on candidates to block them from employment.

Therefore, if you are in an interview and you are asked questions like: “How long have you been working?”, “I detect an accent. Where are you from?”, “Do you have any medical conditions we should know about?”, “I noticed you don’t wear a ring. Do you have a husband/wife?” or “Do you live with anyone?” – these are considered inappropriate interview questions – and you don’t have to answer them.

To avoid further awkwardness during the interview, here is how you can respond to questions that feel inappropriate or potentially illegal.

Your first option is to answer, if you’re comfortable with the question. If, however, you are uncomfortable, remain calm – no need to feel embarrassed or defensive. Remember, the interviewer asked you the inappropriate question.

The second option is to redirect the conversation to highlight your knowledge, skills, and experience. Here are some examples of possible illegal questions and how you can respond.


Q: “How long have you been working?”

A: “In this field, I have __ years of experience.”


Q: “Is English your first language?”

A: “No, I am fluent in other languages besides English.”


Q: “Do you go to church on Sundays?”

A: “I am available for some weekend shifts but would love some flexibility in the schedule for other commitments.”


Q: “Are you planning on starting a family?”

A: “I’m not there yet. I am interested in the growth and career development opportunities with the company. Can you tell me more about it?”

Gender Identity

Q: “How comfortable are you managing a team of all men?”

A: “I am very comfortable in a management role. In my last position, the department I led exceeded its annual sales goals for three straight years.”

U.S. Citizenship

Q: “I detect an accent. Where are you from?” or

Q: “You have a unique look. Where are you from?”

A: This could be answered by saying,

“I’ve lived in a few places, but I am legally allowed to work in the U.S. if that’s what you’re asking.”

Marital Status

Q: “That’s a beautiful engagement ring; are you recently married?”

A: “Thanks so much for noticing. I’m excited about this position and would like to chat a bit more about the job duties.”

Disability Status

Q: “I noticed you walking with a limp when you came in. Is everything okay?”

A: “Thanks for asking. It’s nothing that impacts my ability to do the job.”

Sexual Orientation Status

Q: “What is your sexual orientation? Are you transgender?”

A: “Can you help me understand how my sexual orientation is relevant to this position?”

In my next article, learn what to do if you feel you’ve been discriminated against.


               Victoria Hinojosa is a member of the Texas Gulf Coast Regional Navigator team for Workforce Solutions. She specializes in training and educating community partners, Workforce Solutions staff, and job seekers throughout the 13-county region. Prior to joining the Regional Team, she served over eight years at the Texas State University Career Services Center as a Recruiting Coordinator preparing college students for the workforce. Ms. Hinojosa holds a B.A. in Mass Communications from Texas State University.

Author: Blogforce

Workforce Solutions provides comprehensive human resource services for businesses and residents of the 13-county Houston-Galveston Gulf Coast region. Workforce Solutions helps employers solve workforce-related business problems and area residents build careers, so that both can better compete in the changing worldwide economy. Our Employer Service Division provides personalized service to help employers find qualified applicants for their jobs, build the skills and expertise of their new and current employees, and address human resource needs. We operate multiple community-based career offices in 13 Texas Gulf Coast counties to help residents get a job, keep a job or get a better job – offering placement, career counseling and financial aid services. We partner with the region’s businesses, educational institutions, civic organizations and community leaders to find solutions to current and future labor needs of industries that are vital to the region and its economy.

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