How to avoid discrimination when interviewing

How to avoid discriminatory interview questions

There’s been a lot of talk about discrimination in the hiring process, which begs the question: is your hiring process fair?

What about the way you conduct interviews?

The relationship you build through the interview process plays a greater role in how your employer brand is perceived. The interview process is constantly changing, though, and it’s hard sometimes to know if you’re keeping up with the times – particularly with this generation’s habit of filming everything. Whether it’s a simple facial expression or an accidental, inappropriate question, mistakes can happen on both sides of the job interview.

Lucky for you, there’s a whole lot of information on the internet about what you should and shouldn’t ask, and Ontario’s Human Rights Code has some great pointers on what is and isn’t okay.

The overarching concept is simple: to avoid discrimination, only ask questions that pertain to the candidate’s ability to do the job.

What not to ask in interviews

To start with, here are a few items you should refrain from inquiring about. These topics often border on or can be perceived as discriminatory:

  • Age
  • Ancestry (that includes colour or race)
  • Citizenship
  • Disability
  • Family status (including pregnancy and breastfeeding)
  • Relationship status (marital, single, etc.)
  • Gender identity, gender expression
  • Record of offences
  • Sexual orientation

Once you take a look at the above list, it’s pretty apparent that there’s usually no relevant reason to approach these subjects. However, you can’t always control what a candidate wishes to share. In that case, proceed with your interview in the most politically tactful way as possible and remember that there is no place for judgment unless there is an authentic impact to the requirements of the role being adequately fulfilled.

What to do when you have to ask them

In the rare instances when bonafide requirements do get in the way of the above list, here’s how to handle them:

Age: If candidates need to be over 18 for a specific job, for example a bartending role, you should verify their age by asking ”are you 18 years of age or older?” in place of “How old are you?” 

Disability: The ability to lift 60 pounds is a bonafide requirement in, say, a warehouse shipper position. So instead of asking if someone has any condition, physical or otherwise, that would prevent them from doing this job, you should simply ask, Are you able to lift 60 pounds?”

Eligibility: To determine eligibility, ask “are you a Canadian citizen?” instead of can you work in Canada legally?”

Family status or marital status: Candidates may spontaneously talk about their children. Volunteering information is fine, but it’s best not to ask about a candidate’s family status. If you’re looking for flexibility, you can ask about the specific hours you require to be filled or what their general schedule looks like.

How (else) to avoid discrimination in interviews

If you’re creating questions for an application form, the sample application for employment from the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s website is a great point of reference. When it comes to conducting in-person interviews, here are a few best practices to keep in mind:

  • Create questions in advance that will give you the answers you’re looking for.
  • Ensure your questions are focused on the job’s essential duties and requirements.
  • Ask skills-based, behavioral, and situational questions (we have a free, downloadable guide with more about how to do that right).
  • Create a marking scheme that will help you score candidate responses.
  • Administer the same questions to each candidate to ensure your process is fair.

These are just a few examples to help you maintain boundaries when interviewing candidates, and are a great place to start if you haven’t interviewed or hired in a while.

Remember: if you’re looking for more detailed information on the various types of interview questions that suit the type of role you’re hiring, don’t forget to download our free eGuide to amazing interviews.

See also:
When beer cart Friday goes wrong
What employers need to know about marijuana in the workplace


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