Small Talk, Big Problems: Unexpectedly Dangerous Interview Questions

Employee LawMost professionals think they know how to do a proper interview without a lawyer telling them what to say. Some interviewers often start out with small talk, attempting to build rapport with the interviewees and make them more comfortable. Seemingly innocuous questions during this interview process may present a dangerous liability for the company. They can lead to discrimination or wrongful-discharge lawsuits. Here are some surprisingly problematic questions to show you the dangers of improperly trained interviewers.


Here’s what NOT to ask during a job interview:

  • Is it Ms. or Mrs.?
  • Is that your maiden name?
  • Do you have any childcare/caregiver responsibilities?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • What’s the name and address of a relative we can notify in case of an emergency?
  • When did you graduate from high school/college?
  • Where’s that accent from?
  • Are you a citizen?
  • Why are you in a cast?
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • When did you graduate from high school?


All these questions inadvertently hint at one of the federally protected categories for employment purposes. Can you see how each implicates one of these categories? The categories are:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Gender (including pregnancy)
  • National origin and citizenship
  • Age (40 and over)
  • Disability (including perceived disability)
  • Genetic information
  • Veterans, active-duty or application to the uniformed services


While some of these questions just cannot be asked, other can be rephrased appropriately:

  • This position requires long and irregular hours are you able to fulfill this essential function of the job?
  • What’s the name and address of a person we can notify in case of an emergency?
  • What schools have you attended?
  • If you are hired, will you be able to submit verification of your legal right to work in the US?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a crime?


Developing a standard set of questions to choose from during interviews is a good practice and ensures consistency. You can make sure that the questions do not violate any laws and eliminate potential discrimination claims. If you are uncertain about the legality of an interview activity, contact Drinkwater Law Offices at (775) 828-0800.

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