It may seem like innocent small talk to ask someone whether they have children, or how old they are, but employers need to be very careful when interviewing job applicants as these seemingly innocent questions would be illegal.

There are certain dos and don’ts to remember when interviewing:

  • Do process all the applications in the same way.
  • Do only ask questions at the interview that are relevant to the job.
  • Do make sure all employees who come into contact with job applicants are trained about how to avoid discrimination.
  • Don’t keep separate lists of male and female or married and single applicants.
  • Don’t make jokes at the interview that are sexist or racist or otherwise biased.

Questions you should avoid asking at a job interview

You shouldn’t ask questions about personal circumstances, such as marital status, children, domestic obligations, marriage plans or family intentions.

You also can’t ask a job applicant about their trade union membership. You can’t use someone’s membership as a reason not to employ them and, equally, you can’t force someone to join a trade union as a condition of their employment.

It’s not permitted to ask about criminal convictions if they are ‘spent’. In this case you should treat the conviction as if it never happened and you can’t use it as a reason not to employ someone. Some employers are exempt from this requirement (e.g. schools).

Examples of questions you should never ask in a job interview

How old are you?

Where were you born?

Are you married?

Do you have children?

Do you plan to have children?

Have you got a disability or chronic illness?

What’s your main language?

Are you a UK citizen?

What religion are you?

How much longer do you want to work before you retire?

What are your long-term career goals?

Have you ever been arrested?

We’ve always had a man doing this job, so how do you think you’ll cope?

Questions you can ask at interview

You can ask about health, provided that it’s to do with a requirement of the job that can’t be dealt with by making reasonable adjustments. You can also ask about health to find out if someone needs help to take part in an interview or selection test.

You can ask if someone is disabled if you are using positive discrimination to recruit a disabled person.

If you want more in-depth expert information – from an employment lawyer – on how to hire someone correctly, then read our guide Employment Law Made Easy. Packed with tips and expert advice on complying with employment legislation.

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