What Can an Employer Ask You During an Interview?
By: Sean O’Donnell
These blog posts are meant to provide educational content and are not to be taken as legal advice.
Landing a job interview for a position that you’ve always wanted, or for a company that you’ve always admired, can be very exciting. But what happens when that excitement turns to discomfort because one or more of the interview questions seems inappropriate?
There are a whole range of interview questions that an employer can legally ask you, and just because a question makes you feel uncomfortable does not automatically make it illegal. There are, however, certain questions that are off limits – but that doesn’t mean some employers won’t ask them regardless.
Questions That Violate Your Human Rights
Ontario’s Human Rights Code protects you from being discriminated against on the basis of personal attributes, including:
- Sex (including pregnancy and breast feeding)
- Ethnic origin
- Place of origin
- Family status
- Marital status (including single status)
- Gender identity
- Gender expression
- Record of offences
- Sexual orientation
Keep in mind, however, that certain positions may have particular valid requirements relative to a person’s age (e.g. a position in a restaurant might require they be old enough to serve alcohol), sex (e.g. a security position might require a certain number of both male and female security personnel), or physical ability (e.g. the position might require that the employee be able to lift a minimum weight).
An employer is not allowed to ask, “How old are you?”, but depending on the position that they are interviewing you for, they may be allowed to ask, “Do you meet the necessary age requirement?”
An employer is not allowed to ask, “Are you a Canadian citizen?” or even “Do you have experience working in Canada?” What they are allowed to ask, however is, “Are you legally allowed to work in Canada?”
Asking About Criminal Records and Police Checks
If the position for which you are being interviewed will involve working with vulnerable persons such as children, the elderly or those with disabilities, the employer will likely require that you get a police background check, and they are within their rights to do so.
An employer may also ask if you have been convicted of a crime for which a pardon has not been granted. This last part is important because if you have been granted a pardon, you are under no obligation to tell the employer about a previous conviction. You can simply answer them honestly and say that you do not have a criminal record.
What Should You Do if You Are Asked Illegal Questions?
If an employer asks you an illegal question, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are trying to discriminate against you. It could just be their way of making conversation or they may not be aware that the question is illegal.
In any event, you have the option to answer the question if you are comfortable and don’t feel the answer will affect your chances of being hired; or you can politely remind them that the question is illegal. If you refuse to answer the question, it could cause tension between you and the employer and possibly even result in you not getting the job. Of course, you should ask yourself whether you would really want to work for someone who would ask illegal questions during the interview.
If you have been turned down for a job after an interview during which the employer asked you illegal questions, you may have a human rights case. To learn more, contact SJO Legal for a consultation.