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.

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