California Interview Questions – What Not to Ask

 Getting ready to interview employment candidates? What questions are illegal to ask?

California has strict restrictions on what types of questions cannot be asked in an interview. The areas of “illegal” questions generally involve the background, ethnicity, religious, sexual orientation, maternity, gender-orientation, and other personal aspects of a candidate and the candidate’s personal details.

Our guide breaks it down for you:

What Not to Ask

The purpose of this form is to provide the job interviewer with basic guidelines about what should NOT be asked during a job interview with any person performing services in the State of California. The content on this list includes questions that may be avoided for risk management purposes, it is not all-inclusive.

Candidate’s Background:

  • Don’t ask about candidate’s nationality or ethnicity
  • Don’t ask where the candidate was born, when they immigrated, or why
  • Avoid any remarks about the candidate’s skin color
  • Don’t ask about the candidate’s religion or religious practices
  • Do not ask about their age, date of birth, etc.
  • Do not make “over 40” jokes
  • Do not ask what holidays they celebrate or if they need time off for certain holidays
  • Do not ask if they are comfortable with male or female bosses
  • Do not comment on age disparity between the candidate and others in the office
  • Do not ask if the candidate has desires/plans to retire or when they would like to retire
  • Do not ask them if they have debt or lots of loans

Medical Conditions

  • Even if the candidate raises illness or medical conditions, do not ask or inquire further “to learn more” about a candidate’s medical issues, illnesses, or medical conditions
  • You can express sympathy or express your hope that their health improves
  • Do not ask about the person’s “mental” stability, mental “toughness” or anything questioning their mental health
  • Do not ask about how their health has been or if they have had any recent or major illnesses
  • Do not ask if they smoke or drink
  • Avoid asking about injuries, disabilities, etc.


  • Avoid making any comments about the woman’s personal appearance
  • Do not comment on hair, perfume, shoes, nails, or anything else
  • Avoid making comments about the woman’s beauty
  • Do not tell women they “look exotic” or “look like they are from ____”
  • Avoid sexually suggestive comments or discussion
  • Do not ask if the candidate is married or unmarried
  • Do not ask if the candidate has children, is pregnant, wants to have children, or anything relating to pregnancy / maternity desires, status, etc.
  • Do not ask about child care arrangements


  • Do not ask when they graduated from school / college/ etc.


  • Do not ask if they are U.S. citizens
  • Do not ask if the candidate immigrated or what their immigration status / classification is

Criminal History

  • Do not ask about criminal background information
  • Do not ask about arrests
  • Do not ask if the person uses medical marijuana or marijuana prescribed by any physician
  • Do not ask if the person has any addictions

Minority Candidates

  • Do not ask if they “play sports”
  • Do not ask or make any reference to their background/heritage, etc.
  • Do not ask about family, immigration, or family status


  • Avoid all topics dealing with a job candidate’s political beliefs


  • Do not ask about their prior salary / wage history


  • Anything relating to the job, their experience/qualifications for the job, and professional background
  • Behavioral questions that test how the candidate would respond to certain situations
  • Requirements of the position


  • You can try to politely change the topic
  • Simply do not pursue the topic further

Need a Checklist?

We’ve prepared a handy checklist of questions not to ask, which you can download completely for free (click on the link in the Download Center) below.

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AXIS Legal Counsel’s provides legal advice to numerous businesses throughout California with a variety of legal matters, including employment, employee relationships, labor law, and wage/hour matters, as well as compliance with California’s numerous employment and labor laws. We have assisted clients develop employment policies, become compliant with California’s wage and hour laws, prepare employee handbooks, management agreements, employment agreements, independent contractor agreements, and numerous similar labor law and employment legal matters. We have also represented clients in litigation matters involving employee and independent contractor disputes, mediations, lawsuits, and arbitrations. For information on retaining AXIS Legal Counsel to represent your business in connection with any legal matter, contact or call (213) 403-0130 for a confidential consultation.


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