ILLEGAL: “Ever been arrested?”
LEGAL: “Ever been convicted of ___?”
A general question about your (criminal) past is off topic, but a more targeted question regarding questionable behavior — as it relates to health care and nursing — is okay. For example, if you were applying for a job as a magician, it’s appropriate to ask if you’ve ever been convicted of fraud in your line of work.
It’s not so much what the question is asking, but how the question is asked. Federal and state laws prevent employers from asking interviewees about subjects unrelated to the job. However, if you feel you have been asked a question that’s off-limits, you should seek legal counsel. Before you take serious action, take into consideration the nature of the job, the context of the situation, the interviewer’s intent, and of course, the phrasing of the question. Good luck and happy interviewing, nurses!