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Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), it is illegal for employers to treat qualified applicants with disabilities unfavorably because they have a disability, a history of a disability, or because they are believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory and minor, even if the applicant does not have such an impairment.

The law also prohibits employers from asking job applicants to answer medical questions or take a medical exam before extending a job offer.

Illegal Questions*

  • Do you have a disability?
  • Have you ever filed for a workers’ compensation claim?
  • Have you ever been treated for mental health problems?
  • Do you have asthma or a heart condition, gout, etc.?

What Can Be Asked by an Employer

  • Employers may ask whether applicants would need reasonable accommodations to perform certain tasks central to the open position, and what accommodations would be needed.
  • Employers are also allowed to describe the physical requirements of a job and ask applicants to describe or demonstrate how they would perform the job.
  • Employers need to be careful to phrase questions in a way that answering would not force the applicant to reveal whether or not they have a disability.

*“Avoid Asking These Illegal Interview Questions,” CareerBuilder, Sept. 2018

Even when asked innocently by the employer, an illegal question can inadvertently lead the employer to discriminate against you. The basic rule of thumb to knowing whether a question is appropriate or not is: Does the question have anything to do with your work skills or experience for the job you are applying for?

So how do you respond to an illegal or uncomfortable interview question? Responding to inappropriate or illegal questions can be tricky. You can certainly choose to answer the question honestly, though a candid response could jeopardize your candidacy for the job. You can also refuse to answer the question, which may be appropriate in some situations, but can also make you seem defensive or unfriendly if the question was asked without ulterior motives. Luckily, there are ways to answer these questions without seeming evasive and without being offensive. Here are some techniques:

  • Gracefully avoid the question and steer the conversation elsewhere
  • Keep your answers short, broad and general
  • Redirect a question to your interviewer
  • Ask the interviewer why the question is relevant to your job

*Excerpts taken from “How to Handle Illegal (or Inappropriate) Interview Questions,” BigInterview, July 2020