19 Mar

Be an Informed Job Seeker: 5 Questions You Don't Have to Answer in an Interview

Posted by John Brandwagt

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms makes it illegal to discriminate against Canadian citizens on a number of factors, including sex or gender, sexual identity, ethnicity or race, and disability.

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Since labour law is the responsibility of the provinces, the protections offered in the Charter are reflected in provincial legislation about employment. For example, the Alberta Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in certain employment practices and in job postings and interviews.

If you’re asked any of the following questions in an interview, you should know you don’t need to answer.


1. Questions Related to Gender or Sexual Identity

An employer may think they’re being polite by asking a female candidate to identify as Ms., Miss, or Mrs., but they’re actually asking a prohibited question. These terms can be used to infer marital or family status. Asking for a woman’s maiden name also makes assumptions about her marital status.

These questions also make assumptions about a person’s gender identity and expression, which could lead to discriminatory behaviour on the part of the employer.


2. Questions about Family

While many people refuse to believe this would happen in Canada, employers can and do turn down female candidates for jobs if the women suggest they have children or would like to have children. Women who plan to have children could be discriminated against during the hiring process. Employers may decide not to hire the woman because they believe she’ll require more time off.

This discrimination extends to parents of both sexes. Employers may be reluctant to hire a parent since they believe people with children need more time off to care for children. If you have an elderly parent or relative you look after, you could also be discriminated against during the hiring process. If these questions come up, you don’t need to answer them in the interview.


3. How Old Are You?

Ageism is something Canadian society is only beginning to counter, but it does exist. Some employers are less likely to hire older workers. They may be reluctant to hire someone they see as being close to retirement.They might think older workers don’t have the up-to-date skills they need.

You shouldn’t provide your date of birth until you’ve been hired. The only reason an employer should ask age-related questions is to confirm you’re legally old enough to do the job. Questions such as “are you 18 years of age or older” and “are you legally entitled to work in this province?” are acceptable.


4. Do You Have Citizenship?

If an employer asks you about your citizenship status, they could be trying to determine if you’re truly a Canadian. While you may need to confirm you have the legal credentials to work in Canada, you should not need to tell the interviewer if you are a citizen, a permanent resident, or a landed immigrant, or whether you hold any other immigration status.


5. What Are Your Religious Beliefs?

A potential employer shouldn’t ask about your religious beliefs either. Some employers will. Much like some people believe parents will need more time off, some employers see those with different religious beliefs as requiring more time off and special accommodations. Others may have more deep-seated prejudices about certain religious groups.

If an employer asks, you don’t need to answer. Employers may discuss the hours of work required. For example, they can say it’s 365-day per year operation or that it requires weekend work. You still don’t need to volunteer information about your religious beliefs, but you could indicate if the shift poses a problem.

Employers should know they shouldn’t ask these kinds of questions, yet many still do. As a job seeker, you need to protect yourself against potential discrimination. Be aware and if you encounter discrimination during your job search, be sure to make a human rights complaint to the appropriate provincial board.


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John Brandwagt

John is a Practice Leader at Inteqna. He’s been working in IT Search in Calgary since 1997. He works best with selective job seekers—those who excel at what they do and enjoy their current jobs. Since they don’t have time to look for themselves, he helps them find their dream jobs. From a client perspective, he helps organizations find the talent that will propel their business. John is involved in several of Calgary’s technical user groups and has held board roles in non-profit groups. He is a single dad of four boys who try to beat him at every physical activity from hiking to rugby.

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