8 types of illegal interview questions and how to avoid them

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Interviewing for a great job can be so stressful that you may not notice if your interviewer asks you an illegal question.

Jayne Hayden, a career counsellor at the University of Waterloo, says while it’s important to be aware of your rights, illegal questions aren’t terribly common.  “We don’t usually experience students coming back to us with illegal questions being asked in the interview, and we’d like to think that this would be a rare occurrence in this day and age, that the vast majority of interviewers have been schooled in appropriate interview format and questioning.”

Even with that in mind, Hayden says there are still occasional instances of students being confronted with questions like these.   It’s always important to stay vigilant and be aware of your rights.

The types of questions interviewers cannot ask vary, but there are a few specific types you should be aware of.

Age or date of birth

Aside from ensuring that you’re over 18, an employer has no right to ask about your specific age or birth date.

Marital or family status

This includes any significant other in your life,  children or even child care arrangements. And, although the work place is becoming more equal for women, some old-school bosses still think they have the right to know if and when you plan to have children. Don’t let this slip—even in casual conversation—because you could be passed over for a job, a promotion or an important project for someone who will not be going on maternity leave in the foreseeable future.

Personal questions

Specifically those regarding your weight or height, although there are legal alternatives that can be asked if they’re related to the job, such as being able to lift a certain load.

Disabilities

Much like the questions surrounding physical fitness above, unless there is a direct connection to the job you are applying for, you can’t be asked about any disabilities you may have.  However, this doesn’t exclude you from physical health tests after a job offer has been made.

National origin or citizenship

While it’s perfectly legal to ask whether or not someone is legally authorized to work in Canada, no other questions surrounding your country of origin or citizenship status can be asked.

Criminal record

Only questions surrounding specific arrests related to the job you’re applying for may be asked.  For example, it is legal to ask someone if they have any previous arrests related to drinking if they’re applying for a job at a bar.

Affiliations

You may not be asked about any social clubs or political party you belong to or support.

Race or religion

Unless a business faces an undue hardship because of an inability to work on certain days of the week, no questions may be asked surrounding religious practices.

What you can do if you are asked an illegal question

If you’re asked an illegal question you have several options available to you.  You can choose to answer the question, and that is well within your rights, but you can also refuse to answer as well.  Of course, taking this option may possibly create a rift between you and the interviewer.

You can also inform the interviewer that the question they asked is illegal.  It’s entirely possible that the interview was not aware of this fact or they may have just awkwardly phrased a perfectly legal question.

There is also the chance that calling out a potential employer might make the interview process go worse, but you may not want to work for an organization that bases employment on inappropriate questions.

For a full details on illegal interview questions, here’s a listing from the Ontario Human Rights Commission.  While many of these standards are the same throughout Canada, I encourage anyone from another province to explore the specific rights available to them.

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