Two senior manager reading a resume during a job interview, Employer interviewing to ask young male job seeker for recruitment talking in office

Employment law

What can employers ask job candidates in interview?

Interviewing can be a tricky process to ensure that employers hire the right person for the job and organisation, but there are certain areas they must not ask about no matter what. We look at what employers should and shouldn't ask during the interview process.

15 December 2015

Employers should not ask anything at interview that implies that they're making a judgement on a candidate’s suitability for a job based on a protected characteristic.

Can employers ask about your criminal history?

Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1972, interviewees generally don’t have to disclose “spent” convictions; most convictions are spent after five years. It is unlawful to discriminate against any candidate who has a spent conviction other than in relation to specifically exempted job roles. There are some job roles that are exempt from this and a candidate would have to disclose all convictions – including those that are spent.

Roles that are exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act include:

  • working with children and vulnerable adults, such as elderly and disabled people,
  • senior roles in banking and the financial services industry,
  • certain posts connected to law enforcement, including the judiciary and the police,
  • work involving national security,
  • certain posts in the prison service,
  • certain professions in areas such as health, pharmacy and the law,
  • private security work.

Employers should not ask you at any point if you have been arrested or ever been in jail. Some roles may require a Disclosure and Barring check (DBS check) which were formally known as CRB checks. If they ask for this to be done before an interview, they should not discuss the findings. Likewise if they ask about criminal history on an application form.

Grounds for dismissal

There aren’t really any questions interviewers can ask about criminal history that can be asked in any other way. If they need to check someone’s criminal history for the job role then they can ask for a DBS check.

If your employer discovers you've lied about your criminal history after they've hired you, they may have grounds for dismissal.

If you're fired after your employer finds out that you haven’t disclosed a spent conviction and you have more than two years of service, this is unfair and would likely give you grounds for a case for unfair dismissal. However, in the great majority of cases, employers will find out either at the interview stage or early on, and under those circumstances, although it is technically unlawful to dismiss someone because of a spent conviction, the individual concerned cannot bring a claim for unfair dismissal, because they do not have sufficient service.

Can employers ask about your age?

Interviewers should not ask “how old are you?” at the interview stage, but they can probably have a good guess from your CV, especially if you've listed the dates that you sat certain exams like GCSEs, or when you graduated from university.

It is permissible to ask is if you are over the minimum age required for the role (for example, over the age of 18 for bar work). Employers should not ask an older person if they feel they are due retirement, or how long they think they will be working for.

Application forms and CVs

Interviewers shouldn’t ask for someone’s date of birth on an application form as they shouldn’t be influenced by someone’s age when deciding if they are suitable for the job. Some young people have very mature heads on their shoulders, and some older people are very immature. Age should have no bearing on their decision to hire someone and should not be seen as a factor in candidate suitability.

If employers choose to do an anonymous equality monitoring form, they can ask for date of birth or age bracket.

Interviewers can’t ask: How old are you?

But they can ask: Are you over 18? Or whatever the required minimum age is for the role.

Interviewers can’t ask: How long until you retire?

But they can ask: What are your long-term career goals?

Interviewers can’t ask: What year did you graduate?

But they can ask: Do you have a degree or similar qualifications relevant to the role?

If you believe that you didn’t get a job based on your age, you may have a case for age discrimination.

Can employers ask about your religion?

Interviewers should not ask any questions related to a person’s religion.

If they ask about your religious views or affiliations it could be deemed as potential discrimination i.e. it may be alleged that they have taken a decision related to the suitability of that candidate for the role based upon their religion. Employers have to interview someone based on the merits of their expertise for the job, and what a person’s religion is should be irrelevant.

Employers also should not ask about the background of your name, or where it comes from, as this can open the business up to claims of discrimination.

It is permitted to make enquiries about religion on anonymous equal opportunity monitoring forms, but these must not be used as part of the hiring process.

Working hours

Certain religions may have limitations as to working certain hours, but employers should not ask about someone’s religion to find out. They can ask you if the working hours for the specified job will suit you. They may want to find out about potential scheduling conflicts but can only ask you to confirm that you are able to work when they need you to.

Interviewers can’t ask: What country are you from and where were you born?

But they can ask: Are you eligible to work in the UK?

Interviewers can’t ask: What is your native language?

But they can ask: This job requires someone who speaks more than one language. What languages are you fluent in?

Interviewers can’t ask: What religions do you practice, and what holidays do you observe?

But they can ask: Can you work the days/hours required for this role?

Interviewers can’t ask: Do you belong to a club or social organisation?

But they can ask: Are you a member of any professional organisation or trade group that is relevant to our business?

If you believes that you didn’t get a job based on your religion, ethnicity, or background, you may have a case for racial discrimination.

Can employers ask about your gender?

Interviewers should steer clear of any questions that are gender specific. They can ask questions about your ability to handle the challenges of the role, but must never imply that your gender may affect this.

Employers can recruit for a specific gender if the role requires it, for example a project worker in a female-only domestic violence centre may need to be a woman.

If employers believe that a candidate may be transgender, they mustn't ask you about it. If you identify as a man or woman they must not refer to you in any other way than how you identify.

Interviewers can’t ask: We’ve always had a man/woman in this role, how will you handle that?

But they can ask: What can you bring to this role?

Interviewers can’t ask: It’s mainly a team of men/women, how do you feel about that?

But they can ask: What is your experience of working in a team? What is your experience of managing staff?

Interviewers can’t ask: What is your gender?

But they can ask: Tell us a little about yourself.

Employers should never assume that a man or woman can or can’t do a job purely based on their gender and should make sure all the questions they ask are identical no matter who they are interviewing.

How we can help

If you believes that you didn’t get a job based on your gender, then you may have a case for sex discrimination.

Our expert employment lawyers are here to provide legal advice on cases of discrimination at the interview stage. Call us on 0330 041 5869 or contact us online and we'll call you.

All the above information was correct at the time of publication.

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