According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, employers are not permitted to ask discriminatory questions in interviews pertaining to race, sex, religion, marital status, disability and more. The focus of the interview should be on your skills and abilities and whether you can perform the job.
Unfortunately, interviews are sometimes conducted by workers who are not trained in human resources and may not be aware of these legal guidelines.
Here are some examples of inappropriate and illegal interview questions:
- Do you have any disabilities or medical conditions?
- How did you become disabled?
- When was the last time you were hospitalised?
- How often do you miss work for doctor appointments?
- How many sick days did you take last year?
Now, here are some appropriate and legal questions you could be asked in an interview:
- How would you perform this job task?
- Can you fulfill the physical requirements of the position?
- Are you able to work full-time hours?
- If you have already disclosed your disability, an employer can ask what reasonable accommodations you would need.
In the event you are asked a prohibited question, keep in mind that it may not have been intended to be offensive and that an inexperienced interviewer may not have even realised it was an illegal question. If you are asked a prohibited question in an interview, here are some options for handling it:
1. Answer the question. You could answer it directly as asked, but be careful about revealing more information than you wanted them to know.
2. Answer the question they should have asked. Assume that the question was worded poorly but that the interviewer had good motives. Consider the intent behind the question, and answer it in the context of job performance. For example, if you are asked whether you miss a lot of work because of your disability, you could respond “I’m guessing that you want to know if I can be depended on. I am very dedicated to my job and have been commended for my punctuality and reliability by past employers”, or something to that extent. Try to provide evidence with facts if possible.
3. Don’t answer the question. You could respond that you’d prefer not to answer that question, or you could turn the question back to the employer and ask how the information they are looking for would be relevant to the job requirements. Legally you do not have to answer the question, but be aware that this could cause you to come off as defensive and uncooperative. It’s important to be tactful in how you reply because the interviewer may not realise why it was inappropriate and perceive your response as unnecessarily rude.