Keeping Interviews Kosher; A Note On Discrimination During Interviews For Employers & Job-Seekers
From perfecting your resume and cover letter to deciding how to dress to impress, interviews can be a stressful and difficult process. As a procedure that every person must endure at one point or another, it is essential to know your rights and be able to recognize when a prospective employer has overstepped the line.
Ontario Human Rights Code And Discrimination In The Workplace
Although most would say that honesty is the best policy, The Ontario Human Rights Code does not require potential employees to disclose certain personal information against their will. In fact, the code forbids Canadian employers to ask candidates questions that directly or indirectly indicate qualification for the job based on the prohibited grounds below. It states that  “Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination” and continues to assert that with very few exceptions, employers are prohibited to initiate conversations about the following topics:
- Gender or sexual orientation;
- Age and/or birthday;
- Country/place of origin and/or citizenship status;
- Religion, faith, and creed;
- Pardoned offenses;
- Race and/or ethnicity;
- Appearance, height, and weight;
- Family structure, marital status, children and future family plans;
- Physical and/or mental health and disability;
Nonetheless, questions regarding the above topics may be legitimate if directly related to occupational qualifications or a candidate’s ability to perform the job. For example, an employer may not directly inquire about the interviewee’s age but asking if a candidate is over the legal working age (which is 18) would be acceptable. Likewise, questions regarding religious affiliation are unacceptable yet inquiring a candidate’s availability to work on Saturdays or Sundays is permitted.
How Should You Answer A “Forbidden” Question?
Although it is crucial to know your rights as an interviewee, it is also important to know that infringing questions are not all that uncommon. With a goal of screening the applicant pool for the best candidates, employers may find themselves inquiring about more personal topics. Although most often interviewers are simply not aware of such restrictions, it is possible some outright ignore them or hope for the applicant’s cooperation. Should an employer ask one of the “forbidden” questions, it is best to answer the question as accurately as possible or politely choose to decline, without becoming hostile or defensive.
What Should I Do In A Case Of Discrimination In A Job Interview?
In the case of extreme discrimination, filing a claim against the employer through the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal is a possible legal avenue. However, you must ensure there is sufficient evidence as well as respective grounds to support the claim. For the most reliable evidence, it is best to record the interaction, whether manually (hand-written notes) or electronically (granted permission). With regards to sufficient grounds, it is extremely important to make sure the employer’s discrimination is covered under the Ontario Human Rights Code (bullet list above). Once you have clarified the evidence and grounds for the claim, you may personally file the claim or seek assistance from either the Legal Rights Support Centre of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal or an Employment lawyer at a private firm.
From an employers’ perspective, the aforementioned “off-limit” topics may seem restrictive in terms of personalizing the interview and limiting in their goal of getting to know a candidate. However, such rules are set in place to benefit both sides – to minimize prejudice and maximize hiring of the utmost qualified candidates.
How Can An Employer Avoid A Case Of Discrimination In A Job Interview?
To avoid costly litigation and the associated trouble, employers would be wise to implement several practices to ensure compliance with the legislation. It is often recommended to compile a set of standard questions that would best evaluate the prospective candidate’s qualifications, without infringing upon their personal lives. Such questions can then be used across all interviews to assess candidates based on their answers in comparison with the desired criteria. If possible, a multi-person panel that reflects the diversity of the company would be ideal as it would reduce subjective assessment and lessen the probability of a discrimination claim.
Is The Job Right For You?
While interviews are a stressful event by nature, they can be a positive experience for both parties. It can be a stepping stone for a great career, a new beginning and an opportunity for professional networking. However, the opportunity of employment should not hinder the importance of personal rights, should they be infringed. At the end of the day (or an interview), recognize that an interview can be reflective of the company’s work environment, so be sure to consider whether that environment is suitable for you. Happy interviewing!
For more information on your legal rights within the workplace, during an interview or in any work environment, please do not hesitate to contact our Toronto employment lawyer, Amiri Dear at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 905.731.1911 x227.