HR Advice on Interview Questions Employers Should Avoid

  • Recruitment/HR
HR Advice on Interview Questions Employers Should Avoid
Kiran Virk

Kiran Virk, Head of Talent Acquisition

(Last updated )

The human rights law in Canada prohibits discrimination in employment. This also applies to job advertisements, the information sought on application forms and the questions asked during the interview.

The legislation and protected grounds vary slightly across provinces. For instance, the Ontario Human Rights Code clearly prohibits employers from asking inappropriate questions that contravene the grounds protected under the Code.

The Alberta Human Rights Act also prohibits pre-employment inquiries on certain topics. However, British Columbia’s Human Rights Code does not explicitly forbid questions on personal characteristics protected under the Code.

Please note that some exceptions are allowed. For example, if the personal information sought will help the employer decide whether the candidate is suitable for the job.

Employers must ensure the information they seek from applicants during the recruitment process is relevant to the job and does not violate protected grounds.

If you ask a discriminatory question, you may be exposing yourself to discrimination claims.

It is a good practice to conduct structured interviews to eliminate bias while hiring.

In a structured interview, you prepare a set of questions in advance. All candidates are asked the same questions in the same order. This helps you assess candidates in a fair and objective manner. You can read our blog on how to reduce bias while recruiting here.

What grounds should I steer clear of during an interview?

We advise that you refer to your province’s human rights code to understand what kind of inquiries are allowed, what would be considered illegal, and the exceptions permitted.

However, some grounds overlap across provinces, and inquiries related to the following should be avoided:

  • Citizenship
  • Religion/creed
  • Race and race-related grounds
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Family status
  • Marital status
  • Record of offences

What can I ask?

You should ask interview questions that relate to the candidate’s ability to do the job well.

You may not have a discriminatory intent. Or you may require the personal information to determine the interviewee’s suitability for the role. Either way, it is important that you are aware of the law and exercise tact when phrasing your questions. For instance:

Age

Don't ask: How old are you? Do you think you can handle this job?

Instead, ask: Are you old enough to work legally in this province? Are you between the ages of 18 and 64?

Race/citizenship

Don't ask: Where are you from? What nationality is your name? Do you have any Canadian experience?
Instead, ask: Are you legally permitted to work in Canada?

Marital status, family status

Don't ask: Do you have any kids? Are you planning to start a family? Are you married?
Instead: Ask about their availability for shift work or travel if the job demands it.

Disability

Don't ask: Do you have any disability? How did you end up in a wheelchair? Have you been blind all your life?
Instead: Describe the job requirements and ask the candidate if they can perform all the duties.

Height or weight

Don't ask: How much do you weigh? How tall are you?
Instead: Describe job duties that require heavy lifting or other physical requirements.

Do you have questions related to HR and employee management?

Our experts can help you develop company policies as well as with any other HR, health and safety, or employment advice you need. See how we have helped other small and medium businesses get their business compliant with provincial legislation.

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