Interview Questions You Can Refuse to Answer

You have the right to refuse to answer any of these questions if ever asked within an interview.

Elizabeth Hoyt

September 02, 2015

Interview Questions You Can Refuse to Answer

While many potential employers may be asking questions just to make conversation or to find commonalities in life and make small talk, there are laws that prevent them from asking certain types of questions in case they have ulterior motives behind the questions asked.

Unfortunately, just because the laws exist does not mean every interviewer follows them. That’s why it’s up to you to know what you are required to answer and what information you’re legally protected from having to reveal.

Some of these questions may seem innocent; however, if any of them make you uncomfortable or you don’t want to answer them for any particular reason, you are not legally obligated to do so. In fact, interviewers should not be asking them in the first place because the information cause be used to discriminate or disqualify you from being a job candidate – the very reason these laws exist in the first place.

The following questions cross the legal line and are seen as discriminatory. You have the right to refuse to answer them if ever asked within an interview:

1. Questions on Marital Status

This is seen as discriminatory because an employer may be looking to determine your availability and time commitment to the position.

Answering this question also reveals, or leads to the reveal of some other personal details that can be used to discriminate against a potential job applicant. For example, the answer to this question also may force you to reveal your sexual orientation, which is illegal. Also, candidates who are married are far more likely to currently have/soon have children, which can cause employers to discriminate against you because of your commitments at home.

Examples of questions you can refuse to answer include:
Are you married?
• Is this your maiden name?
• What’s your marital status?

2. Questions on Children

Similar to the question on marital status, an employer may ask a question regarding children to conclude your current obligations, availability and the time you’ll have to devote to the job.

Examples of questions you can refuse to answer include:
Do you have kids?
• Do you have or plan on having children?
• Do you plan on having children? If so, when?
• Who will provide childcare while you’re at work?

3. Questions on Age

It’s no secret that age discrimination takes place within the hiring process.

To avoid the issue all together, employers aren’t allowed to ask you your age, or any questions that would clearly reveal your age.

Examples of questions you can refuse to answer include:
How old are you?
• What year were you born?
• How long have you been working?
• How much longer do you plan to work before you retire?

4. Questions on Religion

Though an employer may just want to learn more about your personality outside of work, they legally cannot ask about your religious background or affiliations.

Examples of questions you can refuse to answer include:
What’s your religion?
• What religion do you identify with?
• What religious holidays do you observe?
• What’s your religious background?

5. Questions on Your Finances

It’s illegal for an employer to hold your personal credit history against you when determining your ability to perform well in the workplace, which means they can’t ask such questions in the interview.

However, if an employer wants to learn about your debt, they can ask permission to obtain a credit check.

Examples of questions you can refuse to answer include:
Do you have any outstanding debt?
• What does your credit history look like?
• What would I discover if I performed a credit check on you?

6. Questions on Arrests

Employers are legally not allowed to inquire about any arrests; however, they are allowed to ask if you have ever been convicted of a crime.

Examples of questions you can refuse to answer include:
• Have you ever been arrested?
• What does your arrest record look like?

7. Questions on Your Citizenship & National Origin

You’re most likely to encounter this if you have an accent and, chances are, it’s an innocent question. However, it’s still illegal to ask questions about an applicant’s national origin, as some employer’s may discriminate.

Instead, employers should merely ask if an applicant is authorized to work in the United States.

Examples of questions you can refuse to answer include:
Are you a U.S. citizen?
• What country are you originally from?
• What’s your national origin?

8. Questions on Your Native Tongue

Employers do not have a legal right to know if English is your first language.

If there is cause for concern or language skills are a strong job requirement, they are able to inquire about your English proficiency and what languages you speak, read and/or write fluently.

Examples of questions you can refuse to answer include:
What is your native tongue?
• Is English your first language?

9. Questions on Military Discharge & Deployment

Potential hiring managers cannot inquire about the type of military discharge former service members received.

However, they are able to ask about your experience, work, training and education within the military and how it would be relevant to the position you’re interviewing for.

Additionally, employers are not permitted to make employment decisions that take active duty service into account.

That’s why they aren’t permitted to ask about deployment or the effect the candidate’s military service will have on his or her ability to work.

Examples of questions you can refuse to answer include:
What type of military discharge did you receive?
• Were you honorably discharged from the military?
• How often are you deployed for your military training exercises?

10. Questions on Past Drug Use

Potential employers are allowed to ask if you currently use illegal drugs – the keyword being currently.

They are not permitted to ask about any past illegal drug use or your personal history with illegal drug use.

Examples of questions you can refuse to answer include:
Have you used illegal drugs in the past?
When was the last time you used illegal drugs?
Have you ever used illegal drugs before?

11. Questions on Alcohol Use

Any questions on your personal drinking habits actually violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and are not permitted during the interview process.

Examples of questions you can refuse to answer include:
Do you like to drink socially?
• Do you drink often?

12. Questions on Where You Live

Employers aren’t permitted to ask questions about your current location because they cannot discriminate against you based on location.

They are only permitted to ask you if you’d be willing to relocate for the position, if necessary.

Examples of questions you can refuse to answer include:
Do you live close to work?
• How long would your commute to work be?
• Would it be convenient for you to get to work based on where you live?

13. Questions on Disabilities/Physical Abnormalities

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits and protects both those with disabilities and those who are perceived as having a disability (a unique or unusual physical characteristic that reflects the perception of some type of disability).

That means that questions about such types of physical characteristics are prohibited, just as questions about disabilities are prohibited.

Potential employers are, however, able to ask if you are able to perform the necessary job functions required, with or without accommodation.

Examples of questions you can refuse to answer include:
What happened to you, physically speaking?
• How did you get that mark/scar/abnormality?
• What is that physical abnormality called?

If asked, it’s best to politely decline to answer the question, as you have the legal right to do so. A potential employer should not make any hiring determinations based on this.

If an employer does hold your refusal to answer against you, not only is it illegal, it clearly shows their discriminatory motives behind the question and is likely not an environment you’d want to work within anyway.

Have you ever had any experience dealing with an interviewer asking illegal interview questions? How did you handle it? Please share below!

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