Personal questions off limits in interviews

During a recent job interview, I was asked if I was planning on getting married soon? I told them, “No,” but it seemed like an unnecessary personal question. Are employers allowed to ask such personal questions?

Dear Working Wise: During a recent job interview, I was asked if I was planning on getting married soon? I told them, “No,” but it seemed like an unnecessary personal question.

Are employers allowed to ask such personal questions? — Concerned Young Professional

Dear Concerned: No, employers are not allowed to ask you if you are planning to get married. Private information like that is protected under the Alberta Human Rights Act for businesses under provincial jurisdiction.

Some employers might not be well-informed about this provincial legislation and may unknowingly ask inappropriate questions. You should prepare for this possibility so you are not caught off guard in an interview.

Generally, any information that could intentionally or inadvertently be used to discriminate against you cannot be asked. Employers should only be asking you for information that is relevant to your ability to do the job.

Employers cannot ask about your:

• gender, marital status, family status, next of kin, marriage plans or child-care arrangements;

• source of income, unless it concerns your former employment;

• maiden name or name origin;

• age or date of birth, but they can ask if you meet the minimum age requirement for the job, if applicable;

• previous address, unless it meets a business purpose acceptable under the act;

• birthplace or ancestry;

• height or weight;

• sexual orientation;

• membership in organizations unrelated to your work, hobbies or interests that would indicate race, religious beliefs, ancestry or place of origin, etc.; but employers can ask questions regarding membership in professional organizations related to the position (e.g. APEGGA for engineers);

• current or past health problems, Workers’ Compensation Board claims, or any absence due to stress or mental illness;

• citizenship or languages not required for the job;

• religious beliefs, customs and holidays that you observe; or

• military service outside Canada, unless there is an acceptable business-related purpose.

Employers cannot request a photo, which could reveal factors such as race and gender, except in certain circumstances, such as a modeling or entertainment position, where this may be acceptable. If an employer requires a photograph for business-related purposes, they can ask for it after an offer of employment has been made.

Employers can ask:

• if you can fulfil work-related requirements, such as working night shifts or lifting heavy items;

• for any previous names you have had if the information is needed to complete reference checks or verify your past employment or education; and•l if you are legally permitted to work in Alberta.

Three ways to handle inappropriate questions:

1. Write, “Not applicable,” on the application form, politely refuse to answer the question, or tactfully let the employer know the question is inappropriate;

2. Answer the question and then discuss the underlying concern that has prompted the question. For example, an employer who asks about your family plans might be wondering if you will be frequently absent. In this case you could address the underlying concern by talking about your excellent attendance record and your ability to do the job; or

3. Answer only the underlying concern.

However you choose to answer, be professional, diplomatic and honest.

After you are offered the job and accept it, the employer can ask you for information required for benefit coverage and for employment records.

If you have a question about a specific situation or think you might have a complaint, contact the Alberta Human Rights Commission at www.albertahumanrights.ab.ca or call toll-free at 780-427-7661.

Working Wise is compiled by Charles Strachey, a manager with Alberta Human Services, for general information. Strachey can be contacted at charles.strachey@gov.ab.ca.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Health Services declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Revera Aspen Ridge on Feb. 1. (Photo by Advocate staff)
Two COVID deaths linked to Revera seniors residence in Red Deer

35 active COVID cases at seniors residence

Red Deer musician Lorry Boschman has written a song about love in the time of COVID-19. Proceeds from his single, Romance during a Pandemic, will be donated to the local United Way. (Contributed photo).
Local musician records a song about love in the time of COVID-19 — for charity

Lorry Boschman will donate some proceeds to the United Way

Preliminary data shows Alberta’s suicide rate declined in 2020 — but some mental health critics say it’s too early to draw any conclusions since more dire pandemic impacts are only now being felt. (metrocreative stock)
Alberta’s suicide rate seems to have declined in 2020

But some experts say it’s too early to credit the pandemic

The union representing workers at the Olymel meat processing plant in Red Deer confirmed the death of a worker on Wednesday. (Advocate file photo)
Union confirms death of worker from Olymel plant

An investigation by the UFCW 401 local has confirmed another death connected… Continue reading

The courthouse in Iqaluit, Nunavut, is shown on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. A Nunavut judge has granted a mining company's request for an injunction against hunters who protested at its site for a week last month, halting the mine's operations. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Emma Tranter
Nunavut judge grants injunction against hunters who protested at mine site

Nunavut judge grants injunction against hunters who protested at mine site

A woman walks towards the entrance of the TransAlta headquarters building in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Calgary-based power generator TransAlta Utilities Ltd. says it has set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal
Alberta utility TransAlta vows to be carbon neutral by 2050 as it notes $167M loss

Alberta utility TransAlta vows to be carbon neutral by 2050 as it notes $167M loss

Pedestrians walk past Shell Canada's headquarters before a news conference in Calgary on August 26, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Shell Canada employing ‘agile teams’ to power energy transition and reduce emissions

Shell Canada employing ‘agile teams’ to power energy transition and reduce emissions

A sign board in Toronto shows the closing number for the TSX on Thursdsay October 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Investor frenzy accelerates Canada stock market activity in February, TMX reports

Investor frenzy accelerates Canada stock market activity in February, TMX reports

Falling Canadian dollar coins or loonies are pictured in North Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, May 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
North American stock markets fall as technology takes hit from higher bond yields

North American stock markets fall as technology takes hit from higher bond yields

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, March 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservative MP David Sweet joins chorus calling for end to COVID-19 restrictions

OTTAWA — A Conservative MP has joined the chorus of voices calling… Continue reading

The Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade is seen in Lower Onslow, N.S., Wednesday, April 22, 2020. The RCMP says two officers who fired towards a civilian and another RCMP officer during last year’s mass shooting will remain on administrative duties until internal inquiries are completed .THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
N.S. RCMP who shot at firehall on administrative duty during internal reviews of case

HALIFAX — The RCMP says two officers who fired towards a civilian… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. Efforts to increase Canada's ability to produce vaccines is among over 100 projects receiving new federal money. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Over 100 new projects to get $518 million in federal research funding

OTTAWA — Efforts to boost Canada’s ability to produce vaccines are among… Continue reading

Most Read