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What Not to Ask at Interview!
Pure Employment Law > News > What Not to Ask at Interview!

What Not to Ask at Interview!

30 September 2018 by Nicola Brown
What Not to Ask at Interview!

A recent survey of 2,000 managers who have responsibility for interviewing found that 85% of them admitted to having asked inappropriate questions of a candidate at interview. Can you be sure that managers at your organisation wouldn't do the same?

While it is of course important that line managers are involved in the recruitment process in order to find candidates with the right skills and experience for the role, it is important that they are properly trained in putting equal opportunities into practice.

The main topics to avoid at interview are things that relate to a protected characteristic of the candidate. The protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 are: sex, race, disability, age, religion or philosophical belief, sexual orientation, pregnancy/maternity, gender reassignment and marital status. An unsuccessful candidate could bring a claim if they feel they have been turned down for the job for a reason relating to any of those characteristics.

Here are some examples that we have come across previously which have got interviewers (and their employers) into hot water:

 - Do you have children? or Are you thinking of starting a family?

Even in 2018 these questions are still asked far more often than you think, and are usually (but not exclusively) targeted at women. Neither of these questions relate to the individual's ability to do the job, and therefore should be off-limits.

- Are you married? or Are you in a relationship?

Similar to the above, these questions about a candidate's personal life cannot be relevant to the job and therefore suggest discrimination.

- How old are you?

Although there are some situations where this question might be justifiable, those will be relatively unusual. For most jobs, it is not relevant how old someone is, so there is no need to ask. (In practice, it is usually not difficult to work out someone's approximate age from their education history anyway!).

- Where are you from? or Where's your accent from? or Where were you born?

Although some interviewers seem to see these questions as small talk, they could leave them open to accusations of discrimination on the grounds of ethnic or national origin. It is best to leave the topic well alone - again, none of these subjects relates to someone's ability to do the job.

- Are you fit and well?

This one is a bit more tricky. Employers are entitled to ask candidates whether there may be any reasonable adjustments required, such as for the interview process, but this needs to be handled carefully in case it comes across that the employer is trying to filter out candidates who might be disabled. Employers can also ask pre-employment health questions where they are intrinsic to the role, such as "Do you have any health problems which might prevent you from climbing ladders?" but this will of course depend on the nature of the role concerned. It is generally best to stay away from generalised questions about health.


If you aren't sure whether your managers might ask questions like the ones above, it sounds as if a training session could be in order. In which case, we can help! Over the years we have helped a number of organisations with their equal opportunities training, which is also a key part of a defence against a discrimination claim. Do get in touch to find out more.

If you would like to find out more about employment law training, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or enquiries@pureemploymentlaw.co.uk).

Please note that this update is not intended to be exhaustive or be a substitute for legal advice. The application of the law in this area will often depend upon the specific facts and you are advised to seek specific advice on any given scenario.