5 interview questions to avoid


Knowing what questions to ask and what questions to avoid is essential to conducting an effective and compliant interview. Some questions are expressly prohibited by law while others may directly or indirectly reveal that a candidate is a member of a protected group. Both types of questions should be avoided in interviews.

Here are five sample interview questions to avoid, along with some suggested alternatives.

Avoid #1: How much did you earn in your previous job?

Several states and local jurisdictions have passed laws that prevent employers from asking about an applicant’s compensation history during the hiring process and/or using compensation history to make employment decisions. (assuming that compensation history may reflect discriminatory pay practices from a previous employer). Check applicable laws before asking such questions.

Alternative: These laws generally allow you to provide the candidate with the starting salary (or salary range) for the position and ask if it would be acceptable for the candidate to be offered the position. You can also tell the candidate not to reveal what they earned in their previous job when answering these or similar types of interview questions. Keep in mind that some jurisdictions, such as Connecticut, require employers to disclose the salary range for the position.

Avoid #2: Are you vaccinated against COVID-19?

Some states have passed laws that restrict or prohibit employers from requiring their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. For example, Florida enacted legislation in 2021 that prohibits private employers from imposing a COVID-19 vaccination mandate without granting exemptions for medical reasons (including pregnancy and anticipated pregnancy), religious reasons, COVID-19 immunity, periodic testing and employer use-provide personal protective equipment (PPE). Many of these laws, including Florida’s, have specific requirements for processing exemption requests. Check your state law for details.

In addition, asking a candidate about their vaccination status could result in them disclosing protected information about their medical condition or disability. Under federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) generally prohibits disability-related medical investigations and examinations prior to a conditional job offer. Once an employee begins work, these requests must be job-related and consistent with business requirements. As such, it is recommended to avoid questions about vaccination status during job interviews.

Alternative: None. Where vaccination requirements are permitted, employers may wait until they have extended a conditional job offer to confirm the individual’s vaccination status. Keep in mind that reasonable accommodation may still be required under federal and/or state law.

Avoid #3: Do you smoke? Do you drink alcohol? Are you a marijuana user?

Several states prohibit discrimination against people who use tobacco products or engage in lawful activity outside of work hours. Some states also have express employment protections for people who use marijuana outside of work hours. Given these job protections, avoid asking whether a candidate smokes or drinks. These questions may also lead the candidate to disclose the existence of a disability.

Alternative: Regardless of state, employers have the right to prohibit the use, possession, and impairment of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco in the workplace, during work hours, and on the job. company ownership. During the interview, you can communicate your drug and alcohol policy as long as you do so consistently for all candidates in a similar situation.

Avoid #4: Do you have religious obligations that would prevent you from working on Friday evenings, Saturdays or Sundays? Are you wearing this scarf for religious reasons?

Employers are prohibited from discriminating against individuals on the basis of religion. This includes religious beliefs (traditional and non-traditional) and religious practices, such as attending religious services, praying, or wearing religious clothing. As a general rule, you should avoid questions that elicit information about religious beliefs and practices.

Alternative: If you want to confirm that a candidate is able to work the hours required for the position, list the regular days, hours or shifts for the position and ask if the candidate can work such a schedule. Keep in mind that you may be required to reasonably respect an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, such as allowing an employee to voluntarily swap shifts with a co-worker so they can attend services. religious. Interviewers should also be aware of the company’s dress code (or any other policy that may require religious accommodation) and be prepared to ask applicants if they can comply with it, with or without reasonable accommodation. This question can trigger a discussion about possible accommodations, if any. If you ask this question, be consistent and ask it of all candidates.

Avoid #5: How old are you? We went to the same high school… what year did you graduate? Do you plan to retire soon?

Under federal law, employers are prohibited from discriminating against applicants and employees age 40 and older. Many states also prohibit discrimination based on age, with some even protecting young workers. Answers to the above questions may provide or estimate the applicant’s age.

Alternative: If there are minimum age requirements for a job to comply with a law or for insurance purposes, you can ask if the candidate meets these requirements.


Make sure your interview questions are limited to requests that only reveal legal job-related information. Next week, we’ll cover five more questions to avoid.

Learn even more about this topic with our webinar Hiring and onboarding: 10 do’s and don’ts to learn best practices for providing a great candidate experience.

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