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By: Sheena Jacobs

Employers ask questions related to the position as a means of selecting the best candidate for the job.   However, there are times when the questions asked are not related to the job, inappropriate, and/or illegal.  An illegal question is one where the applicant is being asked to share information that has no bearing on the position they have applied for.

As a student and job seeker, it is easy to forget you have options….BUT YOU DO!

Here are THREE options if you are asked an illegal question:

  1. You answer the question– if you desire to do so. It is important to know that the information you provide in your answer is NOT related to job and you run the risk of giving the “wrong” answer and minimize your chances of landing the job


  1. You can DO NOT answer the question; you have the right to do so. Weigh the pros and cons of doing so. You do not want to seem uncooperative, how you phrase your refusal is important.
  2. Examine the intent of the question and respond with an answer relevant to the job.


The interviewer asks, “Are you a US citizen? “or “Are you from Mexico?” You have been asked an illegal question.

Assuming the intent, you could respond with “I am authorized to work in the United States.”

If you cannot see relates to the job, feel free to ask “I appreciate your question, however, can you help me understand how this relates to my qualifications for the job?”   This will allow the interview to reword the question and provide clarity.

Sample Illegal and Legal Questions

Inquiry Area Illegal Questions Legal Questions
National Origin/
  • Are you a Canadian citizen?
  • Where were you/your parents born?
  • What is your “native tongue”
  • Are you authorized to work in Canada?
  • What language do you read/speak/write fluently?
  • (This question is okay only if this ability is relevant to the performance of the job.)
  • How old are you?
  • When did you graduate?
  • What’s your birth date?
  • Are you between the ages of 18 and 64?
Marital/Family Status
  • What’s your marital status?
  • Whom do you live with?
  • Do you plan to have a family? When?
  • How many kids do you have?
  • What are your child-care arrangements?
  • Are you willing to relocate if necessary?
  • Are you able and willing to travel as needed by the job? (This question is okay if it is asked of all applicants for the job.)
  • Would you be able and willing to work overtime as necessary? (Again, this question is okay assuming it is asked of all applicants for the job.)
  • What clubs or social organizations do you belong to?
  • List any professional or trade groups or other organizations that you belong to that you consider relevant to your ability to perform this job.
  • How tall are you? How much do you weigh? (Questions about height and weight are not acceptable unless minimum standards are essential to the safe performance of the job.)
  • Are you able to lift a 30kg weight and carry it 100 meters, as that is part of the job?
  • Do you have any disabilities?
  • Please complete the following medical history.
  • Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations? (If yes, list them and give dates when these occurred.)
  • What was the date of your last physical exam?
  • How’s your family’s health?
  • When did you lose your eyesight? How?
  • Do you need an accommodation to perform the job? (This question can only be asked after a job offer has been made.)
  • Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job? (This question is okay if the interviewer has thoroughly described the job.)
  • Can you demonstrate how you would perform the following job-related functions?
  • As part of the hiring process, after a job offer has been made, you will be required to undergo a Medical exam. (Exam results must be kept strictly confidential, except medical/safety personnel may be informed if emergency medical treatment is required, and supervisors may be informed about necessary job accommodations, based on exam results.)
Arrest Record
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Have you ever been convicted of __________?
    (The crime named should be reasonably related to the performance of the job in question.)
  • Are you male or female? What are the names and Relationships of persons living with you?
  • None
  • What is your race? What color is your hair, eyes, or skin?
  • None
  • What is your religious affiliation Or denomination? What church do you belong to? What is the name of your pastor, minister, or rabbi? What religious holidays do you observe?
  • None (If you wish to know if an applicant is available to work Saturday or Sunday shifts, ask: “Are you available to work on Saturdays and Sundays if needed?” Make sure you ask this question of all applicants.)
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