Illegal interview questions

We are often asked questions about illegal questions in application forms and job interviews. Job seekers are wondering if they should answer those questions and the impact on their job application.

It is important to know the type of questions which are considered illegal in a hiring process in order to identify those which can lead to discrimination. The Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms mentions that every person must be treated equal in the hiring process without distinction or preference based on discrimination, which means that questions related to race, language, civil status, religion, a handicap, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, age, political convictions, ethnic or national origin, social condition are illegal unless they are a real requirement for the position such as an affirmative action program in existence at the time of the application or when a position requires some qualities or aptitudes.

The objective of an affirmative program is to correct situations of people who are victims of discrimination, among others, in employment. These programs aimed at hiring women, people who are part of visible minorities, handicapped, etc.

Different application forms include illegal questions. When an application form includes questions that may lead to discrimination it must be mentioned that these questions are optional and that the company is legally authorized to collect this information to elaborate and enforce affirmative programs. In this case it is legal. It is up to you to answer or not.

In an interview when asked an illegal question you can fear that it will jeopardize your chances of being hired if you do not answer. So, when you answer these questions it is important to reassure the employer. For example, if an employer asks you if you have children you can answer that having children never interferes with your work and that you are available to work overtime if required. You can also ask the interviewer how this question is related to the position.

According to the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms asking a discriminatory question is an offence. In order to demystify what type of information is authorized by the Charter, it is important to explain the motives mentioned earlier.

For example, in the case of a short term contract when the person is pregnant, the employer can ask the candidate if she will be available for the duration of the contract. It is illegal to ask questions such as “Are you pregnant?” or “Are you planning to have children?” Legal questions related to civil status must be regarding mobility. Questions such as “Are you married, divorced , name of the spouse and maiden name” are forbidden. “Do you have the right to work in Canada?” is legal regarding ethnicity and nationality but questions regarding country of origin, previous addresses and Canadian experience are illegal.

Questions concerning social condition are legal if related to the job. For example, if asked if you own a car and there is no link with the position the question is then discriminatory because it would expose your social condition. The same conditions do apply for a handicap. The Charter does not allow any questions about sexual orientation, religion, political convictions, age, sex, language and race except if this information is necessary for the application of article 201 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms or an affirmative program.

It is not always easy to determine what is discriminatory and in which situation some questions can be legal or illegal. Ask yourself before answering a question if the information is necessary and relevant to the job. If not, reassure the employer.

1Article 20: A distinction, exclusion or preference based on the aptitudes or qualifications required for an employment, or justified by the charitable, philanthropic, religious, political or educational nature of a non-profit institution or of an institution devoted exclusively to the well-being of an ethnic group, is deemed non-discriminatory.

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