When, during Interview Right to Hire Right workshops the conversation turns to questions that should not be asked because they may contravene human rights protections, there is always someone who objects, “But before I hire someone there are things I need to know.”
This usually leads to a discussion of valid concerns, which unfortunately have the potential to manifest themselves in questions that should never be asked when interviewing. Asking these types of questions can lead to awkward situations, and in some cases, significant financial penalties.
Here are the six concerns heard most frequently, and my suggestions on how to gather the information you may require without stepping over the line into protected areas, which have no place in the interview.
As I do so, I hasten to point out that what follows is not intended as legal advice, but for general information purposes only. Readers are advised to contact their own counsel regarding any specific legal issues.
The “recommended inquiries” should be asked to all candidates, not just those whose appearance raises concern, to avoid creating the impression that some candidates are being treated differently because of their appearance or gender.
Concern #1: Will this person stay?
No one wants to go through the process of filling a position only to have the newly hired individual quit. If there is a risk that the person will leave soon after joining the staff, this isn’t someone managers want to hire. Hoping to avoid this situation, they ask questions that may violate protections related to family status and age. “Is your husband likely to be transferred with his job? Do you plan to have children? When? How close are you to retiring?”
Recommended Inquiry: “Are you prepared to commit to remain with us for at least three years? Will you commit to staying with us until the end of the summer or until the Christmas season ends (for seasonal positions)?” Of course, there is no guarantee that circumstances won’t change or that the candidate is not truthful when answering. Sometimes you just need to trust that the candidates intend to follow through on their commitments.
Concern #2: How can I confirm employment or check references if the candidate has married and changed her name?
This concern causes interviewers to ask women about their maiden name. In addition to intruding into the area of marital status, this inquiry ignores the possibility of other reasons why candidates (both male and female) may have been known by different names where they were employed previously.
Recommended Inquiry: [Referring to the list of references the candidate provided] “Where you worked previously, were you known by a different name?”
Concern #3: Will this candidate be able to handle the physical demands of the job?
Will the successful applicant be expected to lift heavy boxes as part of the job? Does this job require the staff member to stand for long periods every day? Questions such as these cause managers to set minimum/maximum height and weight standards or ask about the candidate’s health, both of which would violate areas protected by human rights legislation.
Recommended Inquiry: Describe the physical demands of the job and ask, “Does this sound like something you would be able to do?” Alternatively, ask the candidate to describe the expectations of previous jobs. “Describe the physical demands of your previous job.” As necessary, follow up with questions about the weight of boxes he/she was expected to lift. How many boxes did he/she move on a typical day? How much of the day did they spend standing? Sitting at a desk?
Concern #4: Will this person be available for shift work?
This concern leads interviewers to ask questions about family status (questions which women hear much more frequently than men). “Do you have any kids? What are their ages? Who will look after them if you have to work a night shift?”
Recommended inquiry: “This is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week operation and whoever is in this position will be required to work shifts. Can you be available to work different shifts, including night shifts?”
Concern #5: Will this person be available to work every day of the week?
This concern leads interviewers to ask questions about religious beliefs (especially if the interviewer assumes that the candidate is of a different faith). “What religion/denomination do you belong to? What religious holidays do you observe? What is your day of worship? Do you go to church regularly?”
Recommended inquiry: “Our store is open seven-days-a week. Can you be available to work every day of the week?”
Concern #6: Is this person legally able to work in Canada?
This concern leads interviewers to ask questions about the candidate’s place of origin, place of birth or nationality. “Where were you born? Are you Canadian citizen?”
Recommended inquiry: Seek confirmation that the person is legally able to work in Canada.
Interviewers who ask inappropriate questions are usually guilty of making assumptions about candidates based on gender, race, age and other areas protected by human rights legislation. The better approach is to focus on the job requirements. Before asking candidates any question, ask yourself first, “What does this inquiry have to do with the job?” If the relationship wouldn’t be evident to everyone, it’s best to steer clear of the question.
Suggested Action: Review the questions you are asking. Could they create the appearance of discrimination related to specific groups? Are there better ways to get the information needed to assuage your concerns?
During Interview Right to Hire Right, participants will identify questions which are “off limits” and identify ways to obtain the information they really need to make the right hiring decisions. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (780) 232-3828 to learn more or to schedule training for leaders within your organization.