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Can I ask a job candidate about their marital status?

Interviewing can be a minefield, and it’s important to make sure you’re asking the right questions about the role and the candidate whilst not straying into potentially discriminatory areas.

11 March 2016

Marital status

This is often a topic that women face in interviews, but that’s not to say men don’t get asked about it too.

Asking if someone is married may be interpreted as meaning one of two things, you want someone who is married because they’re deemed more stable, or you see a married person more likely to be juggling a family and therefore less committed. Either way you shouldn’t ask someone about their marital status in an interview, no matter what your views on marriage are.

Women are often asked about their relationships as interviewers want to know if they have children and therefore schedules other than work to stick to. Whether a woman is married or not, or has children or not, should have no bearing on their ability to do their job, so any questions around this should be avoided.

You should also never assume that someone is married to a person of the opposite sex. Equal marriage rights now mean that anyone can get married no matter what their sexual preference. Any questions about a person’s sexual preference are definitely off limits.


Any questions to any candidate about whether they have children or not should be avoided. You can ask if the work schedule suits the candidate, and then they’ll have the opportunity to tell you if it does or doesn’t work for them.

You should also avoid discussing childcare if the candidate mentions they do have children. The candidate will be aware that they’ll need to sort their own childcare arrangements out, this isn’t something you need to worry about at this stage.


You shouldn’t ask a candidate if they’re planning on having a family, or when they’re likely to get pregnant. You also shouldn’t ask if they’re currently pregnant. You shouldn’t ask how many children someone wants to have, or, if they already have children, if they’re intending on having any more.

Alternative questions

Don’t ask: Do you have children?

Do ask: You may be required to do overtime. Will you be able to do this?

Don’t ask: Are you married?

Do ask: Are any of your qualifications or references in any other name?

Don’t ask: How many children do you have and do you have childcare for them?

Do ask: Sometimes you may be asked to come in on short notice; will this be alright for you? Are there any hours you won’t be able to work?

Essentially if you’re not sure about a question, don’t ask it. You mustn’t ask anything that could be used against you in a discrimination case.

If a prospective candidate believes that they didn’t get a job based on their marital status, children, or sexual preference, they may have a case for discrimination. To avoid situations like this, make sure that every question you ask is carefully thought out before the interview starts. Informal interviews can often be dangerous as seemingly light hearted and friendly rapport can quickly stray into grey areas that are potentially discriminatory.

When to seek advice

If you’re facing a potential legal situation with a job applicant and you need expert legal advice, please contact our team of employment lawyers on freephone 0330 041 5869 or contact us online and we will call you.

All information was correct at the time of publication.

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