COLUMN: Interviewing: Be careful what you ask

You’re wrapping up a job interview of an amazing applicant; she has all the education, experience, and interpersonal skills ...

  • Nov. 16, 2015 2:00 p.m.

Legal-ease by Doug Lester

You’re wrapping up a job interview of an amazing applicant; she has all the education, experience, and interpersonal skills you’re looking for.

As is your practice, you try to connect with the applicant on a more personal level and so the interview morphs into a more casual conversation.

She mentions she is new to town. With the purest of intentions, you remember that your church has a “couples’ night” next week, and believe it would be a great opportunity for her to meet new people.

You confirm with her that she is in fact married, and since you don’t want to impose, you ask if she’s comfortable with the fact that it is a church-sponsored event. She’s delighted that you offered and she makes arrangements to see you there.

Later that week, you extend an offer of employment to her and let the other applicants know they were unsuccessful.

Great! Right?

Maybe not!

The BC Human Rights Code prohibits employers from refusing to employ any individual based on various grounds, which include: race, religion, gender, marital or family status, disability, or sexual orientation. Asking questions of job candidates that engage these topics could provide a basis for those not selected to claim that you have violated the Code.

Back to our hypothetical example: you asked a question about the applicant’s marital status, and inquired about her stance on religion.

Even if you weren’t intending to base your hiring decision on the answers to these questions, another applicant who revealed to you that, for example, they were single, or that they did not attend church, may claim that your hiring decision was based on improper factors.

For employers, the best way to avoid accusations of discrimination is simply to avoid asking questions which engage these topics during the interview process.

It is critical to be aware of the requirements placed on employers through the code.

To be certain, making an overt decision not to hire an applicant based on any one of the enumerated grounds in the code is against the law.

Perhaps more surprisingly, however, are inadvertent violations of the code.

Even without any discriminatory intent, certain questions or topics of conversation that arise during an interview may generate legal liability.

All business owners should consider speaking to a lawyer with employment law expertise – not only to craft legally acceptable interview questions, but also to assist you with any other employment related issue you may face.

Doug is a partner with RDM Lawyers LLP in Abbotsford.  He practices in the areas of labor and employment law, and personal injury law.  Questions or comments about this article can be sent to legalease@abbynews.com.

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