(Interview) Following-Up the Interview : (Illegal Questions)

INTERVIEW : Following-Up the Interview:

Illegal Questions

Sometimes employers ask questions that violate the Human Rights legislation relating to employment. It is important to understand that Human Rights legislation exists at both the federal and provincial levels, and is not necessarily consistent across all provinces. Which legislation an employer falls under depends on the nature of the company. For example, working at a local biological research laboratory may fall under provincial jurisdiction while a nuclear research facility would fall under federal. To verify which law an employer would fall under, or for more information, you can:

  • contact Student Employment Services, or
  • contact either the Manitoba Human Rights Commission at (204) 945-3007 or the Canadian Human Rights Commission at (204) 983-2189

Often, employers may not be aware that they are breaking the law, thinking that they are simply making conversation. You have every right to refuse to answer an illegal question, but be aware that if you do refuse to answer in a confrontational manner, it may have an impact on the interviewer's impression of you.

There are many illegal questions that an employer might ask. Protected subjects include: race, religion, age, marital status, gender (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, family status, national or ethnic origin, handicap or disability. Examples of some of these are:

  • "What is your maiden name?"
  • "Is your spouse subject to transfer?"
  • "What religious holidays will you be unable to work?"
  • "Are you planning to have children?"
  • "Where did you learn to speak English?"
  • "Tell me about the health problems you have had in the past."
  • "Where were you born?"

  Some options in responding include: 

1) Attempt to address the issue that the employer is likely concerned with
Example: "Do you have children?"
"If you're concerned about the overtime, that won't be a problem for me, my family life has never interfered with my ability to do a job."

2) 'Bounce' the question back at the employer
Example: "How old are you anyway?"
"Are you concerned that I may not have enough experience?"

3) Ask the employer directly to explain the question's relevance
Example: "Were you born in Canada?"
"How might that relate this job?"

How you handle these types of questions is really a personal decision. Some people might feel comfortable answering; others may not. Many people find it best to "work around" the question, as with the afore-mentioned options.

NOTE: For students applying for employment outside of Canada, remember that the legality of enquiries made by potential employers varies greatly throughout the world.