1 in 5 HR managers have asked illegal interview questions

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A recent survey has revealed a shocking number of HR professionals are under-informed about what they can legally ask in an interview.

More than 2,100 HR managers across a range of industries participated in the study by CareerBuilder and twenty per cent admitted they’d asked an out-of-bounds question without realizing.

"It's important for both interviewer and interviewee to understand what employers do and don't have a legal right to ask in a job interview—for both parties' protection," says Rosemary Haefner, CHRO at Career Builder.

"Though their intentions may be harmless, managers could unknowingly be putting themselves at risk of legal action, as a job candidate could argue that certain questions were used to discriminate against him or her."

HR managers also expressed uncertainty around many questions; at least one third indicated they didn’t know if the following questions were legal:

·         What is your religious affiliation?
·         Are you pregnant?
·         What is your political affiliation?
·         What is your race, colour or ethnicity?
·         How old are you?
·         Are you disabled?
·         Are you married?
·         Do you have children or plan to?
·         Are you in debt?
·         Do you social drink or smoke?

Hiring expert Carol Quinn told HRM that there is no excuse for an illegal interview question to slip in.

“There is absolutely zero need to ask inappropriate questions when it comes to correctly identifying and hiring top performers,” she said. “There is nothing good about this and everything bad.”  

Joseph Campagna, founder of My Virtual HR, said HR managers should speak up if they see a colleague do something unorthodox.

“If you are in an interview with a colleague who asks an inappropriate or even illegal question, the best thing to do is correct it immediately,” he said. “Don't just butt-in or change the subject. It's important to make the statement that it has no bearing on their selection for the position. If you don't, you leave that open as a liability,” he warns.

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  • Jeannie McQuaid on 2015-04-21 11:29:03 AM

    If one third of the polled HR Managers didn't know those questions were illegal, they have no business being in HR and whoever hired/promoted them into the HR position should go out the door behind them. Due diligence people, know your job.

  • Anonymous on 2015-04-21 10:20:41 PM

    I agree, these people shouldnt be in HR.

  • Ian Ratchford on 2015-04-22 7:31:19 AM

    This article does not surprise me at all. Employers hire people who can be led around by the nose. "They are one of us".

    In my experience, every interview I have been in on always involves out right lies from the HR Manager and or illegal questions. One time I was so disgusted with the panel who was interviewing me that, I produced the source law evidencing their out right lies.

    I was instructed to leave. How dare I make them look like a liar and obviously " You are not one of us".

    Here us my unsolicited non legal advice to these types of people: reading is free. Get off your fat ass...pick up legal text references and examine and apply the law to yourself first. Liars are not leaders.

    You don't have to worry if you are a lying HR Manager as in my experience, it is always top down (cough, cough) leadership.

  • Larry Dawson on 2015-04-27 5:51:22 PM

    Certain questions are beyond boundaries, without question. However, there are ways to phrase questions that can provide needed information without violating statutory prohibitions. A client was concerned about religious practices interfering with his business (hair salon) as he had previously hired an Islamic person who, after hiring, insisted on spreading a prayer mat on the shop floor four times a day and prostrating herself in front of all customers and staff while praying loudly. This was repugnant to most of the clientele (caucasian christians, mostly) and they ceased to patronize the shop and it was forced to close. When the client attempted to re-start another hair business he was concerned that the same issue not resurface. My advice to him was to first ensure that here was a one year probationary period in the employment contract, with a stipulation that an employee could be released at any time without cause, and with a clause that clearly stipulated that lying to the employer about any matter would be cause for immediate dismissal without recourse, and, ask whether the prospective employee had any conditions, practices, or medical issues that would require accommodation. If a prospective employee lied and said no, and then later tried to claim an accommodation during the probationary period, (or following), for any reason, immediate dismissal was the appropriate response, and the justification that the employee lied, which was clearly demonstrated as a firing offense, is the issue, not the subsidiary argument that a human rights or other accommodation was being sought. It is not illegal to ask if a prospective employee needs accommodation, especially if the question is phrased so as not to seek the cause of the accommodation but merely as to whether one is required, especially in an industry that provides such personal contact and services. In this case, advising the prospective employee, and inserting in the employment agreement, that the hours of work are 8:30 to 12:00 and 1:00 to 5:30, with two ten minute breaks, are the expected hours of work and that no deviations are allowed, and is that understood, and do you agree to comply with those rules?, removes the possibility of a similar situation as before. If the prospective employee lies and says yes I can work those hours, then demands an accommodation that allows her to take four fifteen minute breaks to pray, that (a) violates the hours of work agreement they agreed to, and (b) they have lied about not requiring accommodation. The lie is ample reason to dismiss; precedent caselaw upholds the truth requirement in all cases, even if the employee was lying to protect herself. Lying is lying and dismissal for lying is nearly always upheld regardless of circumstances. This client previously had a complaint filed against him for not hiring a pregnant woman to fill holiday relief shifts during the summer months from June to September. He, with some coaching from the HR consultant in the interview (moi) wisely asked her only if she would be available to work full time shifts during that time and she said no, because i will be giving birth in July and will need maternity leave. He didn't hire her, she filed a complaint that she wasn't hired because of her pregnancy. But he argued she wasn't hired because she wouldn't be available to work the time he needed a replacement, not because she was pregnant. The Tribunal dismissed the complaint because (a) the job was advertised for a specific period of time, not permanent, (b) the ad required full time availability from June to September, and (c ) he never asked any questions relating to her (obvious) pregnancy, only if she would be available to work full time, all shifts, from June to Sept. So it is possible to be discriminating in hiring; it just requires a little more forethought.

  • Peter Collins on 2015-04-28 9:24:15 AM

    Larry, your take makes me uncomfortable. Perhaps the salon owner mentioned should have found a private room the stylist could have used. We SHOULD be giving employees time and for exercising their religious freedoms under the Human Rights Code.

  • Jeannie McQuaid on 2015-04-28 10:45:10 PM

    "So it is possible to be discriminating in hiring; it just requires a little more forethought."
    Larry, I'm with Peter, on this one. Rarely is there good justification to weasle out of the intent of our Human Rights laws. Why not use that "forethought" to develop win-win accomodations for people. Most times, it can be done without any real hardship at all.

  • Larry Dawson on 2015-04-30 3:47:14 PM

    Peter and Jennie: While I personally feel that everyone has a right to their own religious beliefs, I also believe that such beliefs are a private matter for all people and I do not extend that into a right to disrupt a workplace or offend your client base by having an employee insist on displaying her religious practices in a commercial setting, never mind offending the religious sensibilities of European-christian-ethnic-centered customers.
    Quite frankly I do not interpret religious freedom as the freedom to subject others to your religious practices, beliefs or displays, and I in the same vein will not seek to impose my cultural or religious displays on anyone else in a public setting. And make no mistake - if you want to have a parade in the street about your religion or culture, that's fine, as long as you comply with the rules and regulations there, too; just don't bring it into the shop where I and other employees are trying to earn a living providing personal services tour clientele.

  • Monica on 2015-05-05 10:42:29 AM

    Any suggestions on how would you 'fix' the situation during which your boss (not HR professional, but President/CEO of the company) asks inappropriate/illegal question during the interview?

  • Kate on 2015-05-07 1:25:14 PM

    Monica: As the article outlines, immediately commenting during the interview that the comment has no impact to hiring decisions is imperative to limiting risk. I think a follow up conversation after the candidate has left to explain why you made that comment would be appropriate so that there is an understanding going forward. I can understand the concern over correcting someone in a higher position, but they have you at the table because you're the expert. At the end of the day, that could mean they trust you more and continue to build that working relationship with you.

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