Illegal job interview questions

Three men in hard hats greet each other

Find out what interview questions are illegal and what to do if you're asked them.

You’ve applied for a job and moved onto the interview stage – congratulations!

Your interview should be focused on one thing – how well you can do the job. You should expect questions around your work experience and what skills you have.

Remember, for all types of organisations, interviewers aren’t allowed to ask about your:

  • age
  • relationship situation
  • sexual orientation or gender identity
  • religion
  • nationality or ethnic origin
  • political views
  • current or past employers’ work practices
  • home life
  • health.

How to identify illegal interview questions

Illegal questions can be cleverly worded, and may seem like casual conversation. Instead of “How old are you?” your interviewer may ask, “When did you leave school?”

Here are some illegal interview questions to look out for:

  • What does your wife/husband do?
  • Do you have a partner?
  • Who do you vote for?
  • When did you leave school?
  • Did you go to church on the weekend?
  • Do you believe in God?
  • Do you have kids yet? or Do you want kids?
  • Where is your family name from?
  • Were you born here?
  • Do you have a clean-slate conviction?
  • How many sick days did you take last year?
  • Have you ever had to leave a role for health reasons?

These questions are illegal because they do not relate to your ability to do the job.

What to do if you’re asked an illegal question

It can feel difficult to refuse to answer an interview question – even if you’re sure it’s illegal. Here are some ideas to try.

If it seems like just a friendly ice-breaker, you could answer generally – talk about “your partner” without revealing his or her gender, for example.

If an illegal question is asked during a more formal part of the interview, it’s a good idea to respond with another question.

Sometimes you can even make it seem like you’re simply asking for more information, “Can you tell me a bit more about the role? I’m just not sure how this relates to the job.”

This will help you work out whether a question is illegal, and will remind the interviewer that they may have asked something risky.

If your interviewer is asking for sensitive information about your current employer – be careful. While asking these questions is illegal, you’re not allowed to answer them either. Instead say something simple like, “Sorry, I can’t talk about that.”

If an interviewer has asked illegal questions you could decide to take further action by laying a complaint with the New Zealand Human Rights Commission.

Find out more

Sources

  • Employment New Zealand, 'Discrimination When Hiring', accessed March 2019, (www.employment.govt.nz).
  • Employment New Zealand, 'Interviews', accessed March 2019, (www.employment.govt.nz).

Updated 3 Oct 2019