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Your rights in the interview

Your rights in the interview

There are clear human rights guidelines for employment interview questions. An applicant for employment may be asked to divulge only information relevant to the position applied for. By law, an employer must focus on gathering information relevant to deciding if an applicant can perform the functions of a position.

Some employers mistakenly believe that they have a right to ask any question they choose since they are paying the salary. Others are simply awkward in their technique, and an unlawful question results. However, human rights law does not distinguish between the interviewer who is asking questions with the intent to discriminate and the one who is just curious or inept at interviewing.

Some questions are appropriate and others are illegal. You do not have to answer questions that are illegal. The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination in employment on the grounds of:

  • Race
  • Ancestry
  • Place of origin
  • Colour
  • Ethnic origin
  • Citizenship
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Record of offences
  • Marital status
  • Same-sex partnership status
  • Family status
  • Disability

Although it is ultimately the responsibility of the interviewer to know the law, this knowledge may sometimes be lacking. It is to your advantage to be informed on the subject.

Handling illegal questions

What should you do if you’re in the middle of an interview and have just been asked what is clearly an illegal question? The answer depends on the situation and how you choose to approach it.

In some cases, you may be able to answer the “hidden” question. Think of what information the employer is trying to elicit. For example, “Do you have or plan to have children?” may indicate a concern about an ability to put in the time to work overtime or to travel. In this example, your answer should convey your willingness to maintain a flexible work schedule.

You may elect to say “Why do you ask?” or “Would you explain how this point is connected to the qualifications for this job?” This could cause the employer to reconsider or clarify the question.

If you feel that you should not answer the question (you shouldn’t have to, after all) or that you are not interested in working for the company, you may state, “I don’t feel obligated to answer that” or “That question is inappropriate.” If you choose this option, you will most likely enlighten the employer as they may not realize it’s an illegal question and be appreciative that you pointed it out to them.

Human Rights Assistance

The majority of employers strive to hire the most qualified staff and do so fairly. For employers in Ontario who don’t follow established guidelines, remember that assistance is available through the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) office. For Canadian employers outside of Ontario, assistance is available through the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Conflict Management & Human Rights Office, University of Waterloo

If you feel you have been discriminated against in any way during a job interview either within or outside of the University, please speak to staff in Co-operative Education & Experiential Education and inform them of your experience. You may also approach the Conflict Management & Human Rights Office regarding the matter.

University of Waterloo

Centre for Career Development