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Questions You Cannot Ask in a Job Interview

A job interview is a typical step in the recruitment process for both provincial and federal working environments in Canada. When a job applicant applies for a job, it is highly likely the company being applied to will conduct an interview if the candidate appears promising. Employers and job applicants may have questions regarding how the interview process works and what types of questions should be asked during the interview. Asking the wrong question can have serious legal consequences for a hiring company, and as such it is essential to understand the types of questions you cannot ask in a job interview. 

How Does a Job Interview Work?

Usually, an interview consists of the employer and the job applicant sitting down together, virtually or in person, to have a discussion related to the workplace and the job applicant’s desire to work there,. The job applicant will normally be asked questions in relation to their previous work experience and what they would bring to the workplace. After the interview, the employer typically decides whether the job applicant is suitable for the position, and if so, proceeds with the next recruitment process stage. 

Questions You Cannot Ask in a Job Interview

All job interviews in Ontario, as well as the federal working environments, are covered under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”) and the Canadian Human Rights Act (the “CHRA”), respectively. As such, employers should avoid asking questions related to the candidate’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability, all protected grounds under the Code and CHRA

Asking questions in relation to protected grounds under the Code or the CHRA runs the risk of tainting the hiring process and opening up the employer to liability for discriminatory conduct at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario or the Canadian Human Rights Commission. 

What Types of Questions Are Permitted in a Job Interview?

During an interview, employers should focus on ensuring their questions are standardized and avoid touching on any protected Code or CHRA grounds. In some cases, the position may contain essential bona fide duties of which the employer can ask questions about.

Off-the-cuff questions should be minimized as best as possible. When conducting a job interview without a standardized process, interviewers may inadvertently ask questions relating to the protected grounds, opening themselves up to liability without even knowing it.  Having a well structured, organized, and standardized interview process assists employers and recruiters in avoiding questions related to the protected grounds. 

Occasionally the job applicant may mention information related to a protected ground under the Code or CHRA. When this happens, it is best not to pursue any related line of questioning.

What Are The Consequences of Asking Improper Questions?

If an employer appears to be discriminatory during the hiring process, even if unintentionally, they can be liable for significant monetary damages at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario or the Canadian Human Rights CommissionInappropriate questions can even lead to a finding of discrimination where the job applicant was not hired due to having less skills and experience compared to the successful candidate. 

Employers should consider implementing a well structured, organized, and standardized interview process, to ensure that the skills and experience being assessed are true to the nature of the position, and are not based in any way on any of the protected grounds under the OHRC or the CHRA.

Contact Us 

If you are an employer and want to ensure you are conducting safe and proper job interviews, or a job seeker who believes you have experienced discrimination during the hiring process, our team of experienced workplace lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at +1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.

If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support with same day response, visit our CLO Program page for our strategic solutions.