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The illegal questions employers are not allowed to ask

I have heard a lot of stories in my time involved with the employment and recruitment sector around questions asked during an interview that leaves you wondering “what were they thinking?” – and I am not talking about questions those being interviewed ask potential employers. Of course, there are the basics we all need to ensure we answer from work experience to qualifications, time management and management of relationships within the workplace and so on – but then there are also the cringeworthy and, in some cases, illegal questions that employers just don’t have the right to ask.

So what are they?

How old are you?

This is something that might surprise you because surely its legal to ask how old you are? Well, unless you state the obvious or look the obvious the employer is not allowed to specifically ask this question. It could form the basis of age discrimination as well as the underlying presence of unconscious bias during the job interview. For example, the person interviewing you might be charming enough but there is just this little nagging doubt in their mind that says, “I really want to employ someone younger…”. Alternatively, it could be a deeper problem with paying someone younger less because they are less experienced. So, you don’t need to answer that question and I always suggest not putting your date of birth on a resume.

Are you in a same sex relationship or, to be blunt, are you gay?

Again, there is no legal basis for them to ask the question and this whole question of freedom of speech does not extend to whether an employer will employ you based on who you love or choose to call a partner. It is always up to you to disclose this and should not be in response to a question posed during a job interview.

Who did you vote for at the last election?

Your political views are your own business and no one else’s. An employer who might vote one way as opposed to yours has nothing to do with whether you might be able to do the job. That said, I always advocate you be careful what you post on your social media pages because raging against the machine is one thing, using more than colourful language to describe your hate for a politician is another.

Are you pregnant?

That is a big no no question that should not be asked and it goes right alongside “are you planning on having a family?” – most workplaces have specific maternity and paternity leave provisions but not in always small businesses. Some small business owners have argued in the past that it is their right to know as it could impact their business because things are run so lean and tight. But, no – its not a question that should be asked.

What religion are you and where do you come from?

I have to say these are two of the most often asked questions in my experience and used by employers to test the cultural fit of a prospective employee. I have even had a conversation with one employer who was catholic and flatly refused to employ anyone from a migrant background of a different religious persuasion. Now, he was not directly doing the hiring, but his hiring manager knew how he felt and excluded those people during the application process even before the interview step. She did this through first or last name recognition (Smith and Jones were in and Wong and Krakowski were out as an example).

The truth is this sort of behaviour goes on every day right across the economy and the sad things employers could be losing out on some very talented employees that can grow and build their business or organisation. Research such as that undertaken in Singapore proves that point.

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