Is it OK to ask a job applicant for their preferred pronouns?

While this likely aims to show that your workplace is positive and inclusive, interview questions in general should be related to a candidate’s ability to do the job, Advice Guy says.
job interview
If a candidate offers their pronouns during an interview, use them. | Photo: Shutterstock


Our restaurant group recently issued an interview guide that we are supposed to follow for all interviews for hourly employees. It says we cannot ask any personal questions related to race, nationality, family status, sexuality, gender identity, etc. I get that. But the first question in the interview guide is, “Please tell me your name and preferred pronouns.” Isn’t [asking pronouns] the same as a personal question?

– Manager


This is an interesting question and a good example of policy not matching culture or intent. Asking people how they would like to be referred to and calling them by their preferred pronouns is a step towards building and maintaining an inclusive culture. I am sure that by including this question in your interview guide, the goal was to indicate that your foodservice operation is a positive and inclusive workplace and that you welcome all candidates, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

The interview guide is correct in discouraging you from asking personal questions protected by law that can set up the restaurant for complaints or legal problems. According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “These types of questions may discourage some individuals from applying, may be viewed suspiciously by some applicants, and may be considered evidence of intent to discriminate by the EEOC.” In general, interview questions should be related to the candidate’s ability to do the job.

Nan Sato, partner at Fisher Phillips, which focuses on employment law says, “Although the intentions behind this question may be good, the question can be viewed as discriminatory.  A candidate that does not get the job may use the fact that they were asked this question to support a discrimination claim against the restaurant. It is better to leave this question out of the interview.” 

My advice is to use other ways to demonstrate that your workplace is safe, welcoming and inclusive. If a candidate offers their pronouns, use them.

As always, check with your attorney and restaurant association, if applicable, to be sure your practices are compliant.

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