8 Questions Your Employer/HR are Not Allowed to Ask You

How much information can you give to your employer or HR about you and your family? Employers should learn to respect your rights and privacy. Read below to make sure they are not crossing the line.

What’s the weirdest, wackiest, most intrusive question your boss or manager has asked you? Most employees, including me, have one or two stories to tell —- especially during job interviews. Unfortunately, many employers don’t seem to know what sort of questions they should be asking applicants or employees.

Some may say, “I just want to get to know more my employees.” That’s fair enough but there’s a fine line between personal and professional. There are certain questions prospective employers can’t ask you during an interview because they may compromise your privacy as an employee and may be downright discriminatory.

Questions Your Employer Cannot Ask You

1️⃣ What is your credit score?

Many employees and job seekers believe that employers are permitted to view their credit scores. No, they are not. This misconception is due to how the terms “credit score” and “credit report” are used interchangeably in the industry. But there’s a difference.

Your credit score is a three-digit number that helps lenders know your credit risk. On the other hand, your credit report is a record of your lending and financial records. It doesn’t contain any information about your credit score.

With your permission, employers can check your credit reports and make a decision depending on what it contains. BUT they can never ask for your credit score.

2️⃣ What’s your religion?

Religious beliefs can be a sensitive topic but there is no law barring interviewers from asking you about your religious practices. As they might be curious for scheduling reasons, holidays, and weekend work.

The law protects employees against religious discrimination and harassment. You should not be denied a job solely on the basis of religion as employers are required by law to accommodate the religious practices (dress and grooming, Sunday worship, etc.) of their employees.

3️⃣ Do you have any physical and mental health issues?

In general, you are not obligated to tell your HR or employer about any physical or mental health issues you are facing as long as they don’t interfere with your productivity at work. The only exception would be is that if you’ll need some special accommodations to work effectively. If this is the case, have a chat with your HR personnel about the best way to approach your boss regarding this issue.

Many employees became successful in their jobs despite having to face mental and physical ailments. Telling your boss about an ongoing mental or physical issue may jeopardize your promotion as they may become worried about overwhelming you with more stress and responsibility. They are also worried that your condition may worsen, leading to potential time offs or you leaving the company.

Again, when it comes to physical and mental health issues, it’s your call. If you don’t need any special arrangements for you to be at your best, then there’s no need to tell your employer.

4️⃣ How old are you?

Age discrimination in the workplace is a serious offence. In the United States, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals over 40 from being discriminated at work in favour of younger employees. Employers, however, can ask if you are over 18 years old to see if you are legally eligible to perform a job.

Guidance Age discrimination: key points for the workplace
Guidance / Age discrimination: key points for the workplace

In the UK, age discrimination at work is covered by the Equality Act of 2010:

“This includes protection against unfair treatment because of a job applicant or

the employee is: a different age or in a different age group to another job applicant or

employee; or thought to be a particular age; or associated with someone

belonging to a particular age group.” 

5️⃣ Are you married?

“Are you married?”

“Do you have kids?”

“Is ‘Adley’ your maiden name?”

“Do you want us to address you as Ms. or Mrs.?”

No matter how simple and innocent they sound, your employer is not allowed to ask you questions revolving around your marital status. Employers are often tempted to ask about your relationships to find out if they could affect your work negatively.

For instance, family obligations might get in the way of work. Pregnancy may require you to take time-offs. And there’s always the risk of you leaving the company because your spouse gets a job in a different city.

6️⃣ Do you smoke, drink, or take drugs?

This information depends on how your employers frame the question. Asking you directly if you smoke or drink can be rude. So, they usually go with phrases like “have you ever been disciplined for violating company policies regarding the use of tobacco and alcohol?”. This question is completely legal and you can answer at your own discretion.

Employers can also ask you if you take illegal drugs. Bear in mind that they don’t have the right to ask you about any prescription medicines you are taking.

7️⃣ What is your race?

You race nor the colour of your skin should not determine your eligibility for work. In the United States, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the discrimination of employees based on colour, race, religion, or country.

In the UK, racial discrimination in the workplace is prohibited under the Equality Act of 2010.

8️⃣ Why do you need a day off?

Every employee has the right for a specific number of sick days, day offs, and vacations each year. And this number depends on your company and the position you are filling in. Employers don’t need to know why you’re taking a day off and how you are going to spend that time.

Sometimes, our managers ask us about upcoming vacations because they are genuinely excited for you. Although these conversations are often casual, you are still not obligated to answer. Personal days are “personal” for a reason.

For sick days, companies often require a doctor’s note that you will be taking a break from work for a certain number of days. You don’t have to explain anything to your employer unless you need to take a sick leave that’s more than what your contract allows. If this is the case, consult with your HR to know how you can best approach your boss.

At a Glance: Common Question Areas You Might Encounter at Work

Common Question Area Recommended Not Recommended
Age Are you old enough to work in [state, country, or city]? Your specific age, including any information about your retirement.
Organizations Membership in professional organizations, interests, or hobbies that are work-related. Specific questions about your club memberships that would indicate religious beliefs, country of origin, race, or colour.
Source of Income Previous employment and other job-related information. Any question not related to the job like side hustles, personal business, etc.
Smoking Indications that you will be required to work in a non-smoking workplace. Respiratory conditions that may be affected by smoke.
Disability Indicating that your hiring is contingent upon satisfactory results of job-related medical exams to determine whether or not you are fit to work. Previous health problems, general disabilities, or past compensation claims or sick leave due to mental or physical issues.
Education Institutions attended. Level of education achieved. Questions about racial or religious affiliations of your school or university.
Family Status Availability for travel, shifts, etc. Plans for family, childcare, marriage.
Height and Weight Describing the job as something that requires physicality (i.e. lifting). Stipulations/ minimum or maximum weight and height requirements.
Language Ability to communicate in the language required by the job. Inquiries about other languages that are not job-related.
Name Inquiries about previous names to verify education and past employment. “Christian” name, maiden name, the origin of your name, ancestry, etc.
Race or Nationality Are you legally permitted to work in [country]? Questions about your ancestry, racial origin, or citizenship.
Religion Availability to work on weekends, travel, shifts, etc. Questions about religious customs you observe, dress code, or asking for a recommendation from your religious leader.

What to Do When Your Employer is Asking the Wrong Question

Remember that your employer is a normal person. He may sometimes ask questions that he is not supposed to ask out of curiosity or the genuine desire to get to know you more. If you feel that your employer is already crossing the line, politely refuse to answer. Let your employer know that the question he is asking is inappropriate.

You might also need to deal with underlying concerns that have prompted your employer to ask the question. For example, if your boss inappropriately asks you about the number of kids you have, he’s probably assuming that you are more likely to be absent to deal with family duties. In this case, you can reassure your employer of your availability and talk about your excellent attendance in the past.

Remember, always be tactful and professional when you answer.


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Written By

Julianna Markova

Epic certified consultant with 7 years of work experience in IT projects. Process analysis, Project Management Office and workflow design background. Has been supporting Service Area Managers of global mobile broadband company. Was involved in process development, new governance implementation, quality reporting and facilitating.